Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by milani. milani Wonders, “How long did it take to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, milani!
What would you do if someone asked you to spend the next four years working with your arms raised above your head? Sounds like a form of medieval torture.
A similar request launched the project that became one of the most renowned works of art in the world. The masterpiece? The Sistine Chapel. The man behind the paintbrush? Michelangelo.
If you close your eyes and imagine a painter, you may see a paintbrush, a palette, an easel, and a canvas. As Michelangelo learned, however, not all canvases are created equal. And not all art has to hang on the wall. Sometimes the canvas is the wall!
The Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican in Rome, Italy. It is used by the Pope for conclaves and other services and meetings. When it needed repairs in the early 1500s, Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to create a work of art on its ceiling.
Michelangelo didn’t really want the job in the beginning. First of all, he was mostly a sculptor. The idea of such a large painting project didn't appeal to him. Second, he was already working on a project he loved: sculpting a marble tomb for the Pope.
The Pope insisted that Michelangelo was the artist for the job and refused to take no for an answer. Thus, the artist began work on the project in 1508.
The Pope's first idea had been to paint twelve large figures of the Apostles. Michelangelo, however, talked the Pope into giving him free reign to make nine important scenes from the Book of Genesis.
Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling took four years. He finished in 1512. Of all the scenes painted on the ceiling, the most famous is The Creation of Adam, which depicts the creation story from the Bible. The outstretched fingers of God and Adam are one of the most famous works of art in the world, rivaled only by Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
Why did it take so long to complete the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? It's easier to understand when you know the size of the ceiling. In total, the ceiling measured approximately 12,000 square feet! When the work was finished, Michelangelo had painted 343 figures up there.
It was also hard work. The method he used was known as fresco, which meant he applied paint to damp plaster. Some people believed Michelangelo lied on his back to paint the ceiling. He did not.
Instead, he made his own platform system out of wood. The timber was supported by brackets slid into holes in the wall near the top of the windows. From his scaffold, Michelangelo could paint while standing. But, it was still very uncomfortable to paint with his hands in the air and his head tilted upward all the time.
Do you think you could spend four years painting over your head? How would you accomplish the task?
Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2