A holy place The Conclave for the election of the Supreme Pontiff is held in the Chapel. His Holiness John Paul II underlined the primary importance of the Sistine Chapel in the life of the Church: "The Sistine Chapel is the place that, for each Pope, holds the memory of a special day in his life.... Precisely here, in this sacred space, the Cardinals gather, awaiting the manifestation of the will of Christ with regard to the person of the Successor of St Peter [...]”.
The Story The Sistine Chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere (pontiff from 1471 to 1484). the old Cappella Magna was restored between 1477 and 1480. The 15th century decoration of the walls includes: the false drapes, the Stories of Moses and of Christ and the portraits of the Popes It was executed by a team of painters made up initially of Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, On the Ceiling Pier Matteo d'Amelia painted a starry sky. The work on the frescoes began in 1481 and was concluded in 1482.On 15 August 1483, Sixtus IV consecrated the new chapel dedicating it to Our Lady of the Assumption.
Julius II della Rovere (pontiff from 1503 to 1513), nephew of Sixtus IV, decided to partly alter the decoration. In 1508 Michelangelo Buonarroti painted the Ceiling and, on the upper part of the walls, the lunettes. The work was finished in October 1512 and on the Feast of All Saints (1 November), Julius II inaugurated the Sistine Chapel with a solemn Mass.
The ceiling illustrates that God made the World as a perfect creation and put humanity into it, humanity fell into disgrace and was punished by death, and by separation from God. God sent Prophets and Sibyls to tell humanity that Christ, Jesus, would bring them redemption. God prepared a lineage of people, all the way from Adam, through various characters written of in the Old Testament, such as King David, to the Virgin Mary through whom the Saviour of humanity, Jesus, would come.
Reference to the first letter of Peter is likely. In this the water of the flood is seen as a prophetic sign of the water of Baptism, from which a new mankind emerges, that of those saved by Christ. In the spaces between the webs we see, seated on monumental thrones, five Sibyls and seven Prophets.
Finally, in the four corner Pendentives, the artist illustrated some episodes of the miraculous salvation of the people of Israel.
THE IGNUDI The Ignudi are the 20 athletic, nude males that Michelangelo painted as supporting figures at the four corners of the five smaller narrative scenes of central part of the ceiling. The meaning of these figures has never been clear. They are certainly in keeping with the Humanist acceptance of the classical Greek view that “the man is the measure of all things”.
The composition is centred around the dominant figure of Christ. It is the moment before the verdict of the Last Judgement. His calm imperious gesture seems to command attention and from it starts a wide slow rotary movement in which all the figures are involved.
Next to Christ is the Virgin. She turns her head because she can no longer intervene in the decision, but only await the result of the Judgement. The Saints and the Elect are around Christ and the Virgin, also anxiously await the verdict. Some of them can be easily recognized: St Peter with the two keys, St Bartholomew with his own skin which is usually recognized as being a self-portrait of Michelangelo, St Catherine of Alexandria with the cogwheel and St Sebastian holding the arrows.
Excluded are the two upper lunettes with groups of angels bearing in flight the symbols of the Passion (on the left the Cross, the nails and the crown of thorns; on the right the column of the scourging, the stairs and the spear with the sponge soaked in vinegar).
Finally, at the bottom Charon with his oars, together with his devils, makes the damned get out of his boat to lead them before the infernal judge Minos, whose body is wrapped in the coils of the serpent. The reference in this part to the Inferno of Dante Alighieri's Divina Commedia is clear.
Opinions and Reactions As well as praise, the Last Judgement also caused violent reactions among the contemporaries. For example the Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said that "it was most dishonest in such an honoured place to have painted so many nude figures who so dishonestly show their shame and that it was not a work for a Chapel of the Pope but for stoves and taverns" (G. Vasari, Le Vite). The controversies, that continued for years, led in 1564 to the decision by the Congregation of the Council of Trent to have some of the figures of the Judgement that were considered "obscene" covered. The task of painting the covering drapery, the so-called "braghe" (pants) was given to Daniele da Volterra, since then known as the "braghettone". Daniele's "braghe" were only the first and in fact others were added in the following centuries.
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