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The Sistine Chapel – Up Close and Personal

Don and I had a marvelous time visiting the Sistine Chapel – up close and personal – together this afternoon.

Sistine Chapel

Michaelangelo painted these frescos directly into wet plaster, which required quick work before the plaster set. And before he began, he and his assistants had to remove all the old plaster from the ceiling. I’ve always imagined, as perhaps you have, that he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while lying on scaffolding and looking up. Not so.

Imagine this genius at work on a scaffold 60 feet above the ground (that’s six stories high), as he stood on a scaffold 60 feet above the ground (that’s six stories high!), and strained his neck as he looked up to the ceiling to paint.

Can you imagine the neckaches he must have endured?

Michaelangelo didn’t want to paint the Chapel. He was known primarily as a sculptor, one who had an intimate knowledge of human anatomy. But the Pope commissioned him to do this work, and he couldn’t say no. Imagine painting three football field lengths, above your head, over a period of four and a half years!

Twenty-five years after completing the ceiling, Michaelangelo painted The Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar of the Chapel. That painting has 390 figures in it!

We happened to be in Rome years ago on the one Sunday the Sistine Chapel was closed! Don had been there before, but talked about the crowds milling about, much less specific information than what we heard today, people flashing cameras around them.

Today we looked at murals that are 75-90% of the actual size Michaelangelo painted. Here’s a photo of Don beside the panel depicting Ezekiel, which gives you an idea of the size of painting the artist did. Not only can I not imagine his neckaches…I can’t imagine seeing perspective from that near a large depiction!

Look at the size of the painting!

The online site said we would go through the exhibition in 60-90 minutes. We were there two and a half hours, trying to take it all in.

What struck me was Michaelangelo’s knowledge of the Old Testament, especially of the prophets’ messages. Isaiah, who foretold the coming of the Messiah is pictured below, followed by an explanation of the painting.

Note that on each “story”, the top dark bar shows where on the ceiling this scene is located.

I was amazed, not only at the creativity of this amazing artist, his ability to capture detail, to show the human form, but at the story that carries throughout the Exhibition – the hope of Messiah, one who would bear the sins of His people, as prophesied repeatedly in the Old Testament and fulfilled in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

There is hope. The message of the Bible is true. There is a Savior. His promises are trustworthy.

If you have a chance to see this exhibition, which is in several areas of the country, I encourage you to do so. Here is the link to the San Jose exhibit:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6


  1. How cool! The pictures of your husband show great perspective for the size of the images. I can’t imagine Michelangelo’s struggles and persistence to finish this magnificent project. I tried to find one near me only to learn it has been in the area and gone already. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Carol Loewen says:

      Thank you Ruth. Yes, I wanted to show the perspective on the size of his work. It was a struggle for Michaelangelo and he didn’t delight in the experience. And yet, the glory of God is displayed for all to see!

  2. Judy Palm says:

    These are some of our favorite artworks!
    Thank you so much!
    Judy and Peter Palm

    1. Carol Loewen says:

      Delighted to hear it, Judy! These works are incredible. Someday perhaps I’ll see them in Rome, but to see them up close, and how large the images actually are, is an amazing experience. Thanks for your comment!

  3. JoAnn Payne says:

    How timely, Carol! Our daughter Rebecca (married a year ago to Brandon, living in Colorado Springs) and Brandon are visiting the Sistine Chapel TODAY! I’m forwarding this on to them; since they are 6 hours ahead of us, I assume that they have left the site, but this has interesting info that they may not have read at the site. Thanks, Carol!

    1. Carol Loewen says:

      How wonderful, JoAnn! I’m sure they’ll have spectacular memories from that visit. It’s interesting, though, how large the panels actually are. Thank you!

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