POPE JULIUS II
Founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century, the Vatican Museums are home to some of the world’s most valuable art collections, attracting visitors from all over the world. Consisting of 54 galleries, the Vatican Museums are housed in the Apostolic Palace (also known as the Vatican Palace), the official residence of the Pope, and include the Borgia Apartments, the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms as well as the Vatican Library. It was during Pope Julius’ pontificate, a time when the Papal States had reached the pinnacle of political power that the Vatican made use of the creative genius of two of the masters of the High Renaissance, Raphael and Michelangelo. One of the most influential art patrons of his time, Pope Julius II was the first to see the creative potential of Raphael, a young native of Urbino who had just moved to Rome. Among the most remarkable examples of Raphael works in Rome are the frescoes in the Vatican apartments known as the Raphael Rooms, with the much-celebrated School of Athens, which are seen as the embodiment of the spirit of the Renaissance and its ability to revive, celebrate, and depict the ideas and concepts of the past with exquisite craftsmanship.
Pope Julius II, also nicknamed the “Fearsome Pope,” such was the extent of his political and diplomatic clout, was also the man who convinced the 33-year-old Michelangelo that he could do as well as a painter as as sculptor, and thus take on the task of decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Today one of the major points of attraction of tourists visiting the Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel, that features some of the most exquisite frescoes of the High Renaissance, a perfect blend of religious art and exceptional artistic vision and skill. On the ceiling one finds The Creation of Adam, featuring God depicted for the first time as a muscular figure, extends his finger to give the gift of life the the first man, Adam. The Last Judgment on the altar wall was painted by Michelangelo 25 years after he completed The Creation of Adam.
The Sistine Chapel
Attracting a staggering 5 million visitors a year, the Sistine Chapel is famous for its frescoes by Michelangelo, which include intricate depictions of Biblical scenes on the ceiling and one of his greatest masterpieces – The Last Judgement – on the altar wall. Michelangelo was commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Pope Julius II. The artist spent four years (1508-1512) painting the ceiling using a painstaking fresco technique that left no room for mistakes. Considering himself more of a sculptor than a painter, Michelangelo had been reluctant to take on the work, and he complained bitterly about the hardships he endured while working on the ceiling. But his hard work paid off — the designs are dazzling in their rich intricacy and complexity, including numerous Biblical scenes (most famously, The Creation of Adam), and the figures of prophets, sibyls and ignudi.
In 1536 Michelangelo returned to the Sistine Chapel, after accepting a commission from Pope Clement VII to create a mural on the altar wall. The Last Judgement is an astonishing achievement – a vast, detailed fresco depicting hundreds of figures, from the blessed ascending to Heaven to the damned descending to Hell, surrounded by saints and angels. At the centre is Christ himself. Look out for interesting details such as St Bartholomew holding his flayed skin (the face bears an uncanny resemblance to Michelangelo) and the figure of Minos, whose genitals are being bitten by a snake. Join one of our Vatican tours and you’ll learn all about the history and context of this amazing masterpiece, as your guide points out details you might otherwise have missed.
Sistine Chapel: other artworks
Although Michelangelo’s frescoes are the undisputed highlight of the Sistine Chapel, you wouldn’t want to miss the works by other great artists, painted in 1481-1482. The southern wall of the chapel is decorated with frescoes depicting the Stories of Moses, including works by Botticelli and Perugino. The northern wall depicts the Stories of Jesus, and was painted by Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli. These paintings are often unfairly overlooked by visitors to the Sistine Chapel – don’t let your interest in Michelangelo blind you to these other Renaissance masterpieces! Our Sistine Chapel tours are designed to show you all the artistic treasures in the chapel, giving you a more authentic, in-depth Sistine Chapel experience.