Where’s Your Sistine Chapel?

Vatican Museum

“Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” – Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 23 August 1787

The highlight of our tour of the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum) in Rome, Italy, was a visit to the fabled Sistine Chapel, the sacred sanctum sanctorum where a Papal conclave meets to elect a new head of the Roman Catholic church.

Sistine Chapel ceiling

We were first given a brief lecture by our guide, who highlighted all the features we shouldn’t miss during the visit, and then we trooped into the museum.

The intricately carved statues, tiled mosaic floors and richly colored murals that spanned entire walls and ceilings were just a build-up to the crescendo… 

Sistine Chapel floor

Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

This “masterpiece without precedent” was to change the course of Western art!  The respected painter completed nine ceiling panels over four years, between 1508 and 1512… and then returned for another six years (1535-1541) to paint ‘The Last Judgment’.

(Photography is not permitted inside the chapel, so I haven’t got any pictures to share – though you’d see them if you tapped into my brain, where they are stored in all their technicolor glory!)

Sistine Chapel entry

As one stares in awe and amazement at the paintings on the Sistine Chapel’s roof, it’s difficult to not imagine (and admire) the unparalleled talent combined with incredible effort and determination that made it possible.

Sistine Chapel Vatican Museum

What’s less well known is how much self-doubt and introspection were behind its creation.

At first, Michelangelo was intimidated by the scale of the project.  You see, he thought of himself as a sculptor, not a painter – and wanted to turn down the commission.  He even suspected his enemies of thrusting it upon him, so they could watch him fail!

But he decided to go ahead with it.

Michelangelo fresco

The challenge brought out the best in this gifted artist.

He demanded creative freedom over the content of his paintings.  He even re-designed the scaffolding on which he stood for long hours to reach up to the ceiling.

Then, he got to work.

For five long years, he painstakingly created his masterpiece.

By the end, Michelangelo had painted over FIVE THOUSAND square feet of frescoes!  Amazing, huh?

And then… 

He bested this effort with ‘The Last Judgment’, a painting that depicts the second coming of Christ, and was highly controversial at the time for depicting naked figures.

Mind-blowing.

Awe inspiring.

And also a clarion call to each of us – to wake up to our own unlimited potential.

“Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.”

Some of us don’t even know what our talents are – because we don’t dare to go after our dreams.

Or we don’t persist, stick with it long enough, or work hard to make those dreams real.

Or we don’t truly believe, deep inside our hearts, that they will ever come true.

Our talents and gifts lie unused inside us.

Just think about it.

Michelangelo could have refused to take on the Pope’s commission to decorate the Sistine Chapel.

He might have done a quick rush-job – and just painted something ordinary and simple.

He must have hesitated and feared not being good enough, despite his prior fame and accomplishments as an artist.

Yet he took on the challenge.  

Spent five long, hard years, standing high above the ground on a ladder or scaffolding, creating his masterpieces.

And one man’s daring and persistence in chasing his dream has left the art world infinitely richer, with a stunning, sensational creation that almost TWENTY THOUSAND people visit – every single day…

FIVE HUNDRED YEARS later!!!

What will YOUR “Sistine Chapel” look like?

When will YOU start working on it?

(Or have you already begun?)

Musei Vaticani

P.S. – It’s interesting how Michelangelo portrayed his fierce critic, Biagio de Cesena, with donkey ears as the guardian of hell in The Last Judgment!

Michelangelo’s own self-portrait finds itself on the flayed skin of St.Bartholomew, a reflection of his own tortured faith. Those must have been hard times, and that these geniuses let their artistic talent shine through them is doubly astonishing!

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