You can't take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, although some people do sneak them in. But this is a good way to have a look up close and personal.
Sistine Chapel is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace. It is famous for its architecture and its decoration that was frescoed throughout by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio and others.
Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted 1,100 m2 (12,000 sq ft) of the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. The ceiling, and especially The Last Judgment (1535–1541), is widely believed to be Michelangelo's crowning achievement in painting.
You can watch my 1 min 50 sec Video Rome Vatican Museums part 2 out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
After marveling at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, look towards the altar of the room and notice the very large fresco on the wall. This painting was done by the same artist that did the ceiling – the 61 year old master Michelangelo. Times have changed since he did the ceiling at the age of 33: Rome has been sacked and the Counter Reformation has altered religious life. Michelangelo was a devout Catholic and it appears the events of the Church took a toll on his view of life. Perhaps he was also older, wiser, and a bit apprehensive of what happens after death now that he’s closer to that end of his life. The Last Judgment is darker and creepier than the light, bright ceiling overhead.
The painting was commissioned by Pope Clement VII and represents a common scene in religious artwork: the final judgment of the dead with the good going to Paradise and the bad going elsewhere. Typically, the good are on the right hand of Christ and the bad are on His left. This fresco follows this standard. Untypical to other works, when Michelangelo painted this work, he created most of the figures nude, including the Supreme Judge, Christ. Obviously this caused quite a stir in the Church, so what you see today is the modified version of Michelangelo’s work: after the artist’s death Pope Pious IV had draperies painted over the offensive parts of the painting.
The story is told that the pope’s master of ceremonies berated Michelangelo so heavily about the nudity that the artist memorialized the man in this painting – Biagio da Cesena can be found above the door on the far right side of the altar (the lower right corner of the fresco) – he’s the guy representing Minos (judge of the underworld) with the donkey ears and a serpent covering up his genitals with his mouth.
Michelangelo also created a self portrait in this fresco, albeit it is a rather eerie one. Look to the lower right of Christ (from your viewpoint) and you will see St. Bartholomew sitting on a cloud looking back at Christ. In his hand is the flayed skin (St. Bartholomew was skinned when martyred) and a knife. The skin in his hand is Michelangelo. Perhaps this is a powerful key to what Michelangelo was thinking at this point in his life – note he placed himself on the left side of Christ.
This is a somber work – no one, not even those on their way to Paradise – are smiling. Christ appears as a muscular and frightening Judge and even Mary, on Christ’s right side, is looking timid.
The Last Judgment is a powerful painting and worth some time to admire while in the Sistine Chapel (and you don’t get that crick in your neck like you do when admiring the ceiling!).
Photo used within rules of Wiki Commons.
This is the primary destination for most people visiting the Vatican Museum and it will be crowded – just prepare yourself now for that fact since even on slow days, the chapel is full of people. First of all, the chapel is not that big and it is THE place everyone seems to want to be. So prepare to be squished and lose that sense of personal space for the duration of your visit (make sure your valuables are safely tucked away from anyone who may want to get them). The crowds begin long before the chapel itself as people are all funneled into the Gallery of Maps to await their time in the chapel.
Once in the chapel, take some time to just be amazed. If you are lucky and can find a seat along the wall, grab the opportunity (it helps to be able to put your head on the wall as you look up). Take some time to just soak in the ceiling and the craftsmanship. Consider how Michelangelo painted the ceiling – there is some controversy on whether he stood and painted or laid down on the scaffolding as he painted. Either way – it was a tough job for a guy that would rather be chipping at marble than dabbling in paints!
The paintings reflect the beginning of the world from the book of Genesis – separation of light and dark, creation of land, moon, sun; God giving life to Adam, the flood and Noah’s later drunkenness. Along the sides of the ceiling are paintings of the prophets and sibyls with scenes from the Old Testament in the corners.
After you have looked at the ceiling, look towards the altar at the magnificent Last Judgment, also painted by Michelangelo many years after the ceiling. It reflects a difference in attitude for the artist, painted after the sack of Rome and the start of the Protestant Reformation when the Catholic Church was facing attacks. This is a solemn piece – no one is happy in it, including those that go to heaven. The creatures that pull the people into hell are creepy. And Michelangelo put a self portrait into this piece – he is the flayed skin being held by St. Bartholomew in the center right of the painting.
After you have admired all of Michelangelo’s work, be sure to take some time to look at the rest of the paintings that go around the walls. These were done by Perugino and others before the ceiling was done. These depict scenes from the life of Moses and the life of Christ.
Before you go to the Sistine Chapel, I highly recommend you read up on the ceiling so you can appreciate what you are seeing. A good book about the creation of the ceiling is Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. It is an easy read that will give you some ideas about the history, politics, and personalities during the time Michelangelo was painting in the Sistine Chapel.
Additionally, come armed with a good guide book, such as The Blue Guide – Rome that can describe the artwork you are seeing.
Finally, while I’m not always a fan of Rick Steves, he has a great audio series that can be downloaded from iTunes for free (yes, free!). There is a 30-minute audio tour of the Sistine Chapel that can provide you with enough history and interesting facts during your time in the chapel. Download before you leave for Rome (along with some of his other audio tours) and save yourself the money from the museums; be sure to print his accompanying maps for his audio guide as well, also on iTunes. I enjoyed all his audio tours while in Rome and the Sistine Chapel tour was one of my favorites.
The Sistine Chapel is a carpet of heads, all with noses facing up. For two reasons it's a marvel of physics: First, you don't walk on the carpet, but inside it; second, the collection of hundred of silences becomes a sort of thunder sometimes called "a rumour". And don't worry about getting lost in the carpet, or finding a way out - the carpet works so perfectly that you will be expelled without noticing it.
P.S. - I forgot to tell you that if you look up and around, you may see many paintings of some skilled guys, named Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other. They reproduce many known posters easy to buy in the market, but with that good technique, I think they will have a future.
P.S.2 - I forgot to tell you how to go: early in the morning search for a huge line of people in (or near) a country called Vaticano. If you see a big church at the far end of the line, forget it. That's the wrong line. Move some meters to your right and enter the other line.
P.S.3 - It's forbidden to make pictures, so I had to pick some among the millions available in the net. I hope that Human Heritage is beyond copyright laws.
Perhaps more famous than the St Peter's Basilica itself, the Sistene Chapel is arguably the Vatican City's biggest single attraction. The chapel could be accessed through the labyrinthine Vatican Museums - serving as the highlight of the visit at the end of the tour. Some tourists skip the museum altogether - sacrilegious, if you ask me (and no pun intended) - and head directly to the chapel.
All throughout the museum, the Vatican City authorities have an enlightened policy on taking pictures - tourists are allowed to take photos provided there is no flash. But this does not apply to the Sistene Chapel. Over a dozen, and perhaps even more, overzealous museum personnel make sure this policy is strictly followed, although not perfectly, with some occasional flashes escaping their watchful eyes.
I don't see any reason why they can't allow flashless photography of the frescoes for tourists' memento? It's not that Michelangelo's masterpieces are top secret - one could easily find them in internet and in books! How could harmless tourist souvenirs spoil the frescoes?
I guess that in every visitor's mind is the Sistine Chapel. And we were no exception. :)
So, we tryed to arrive there as soon as we could. I confess that I have mixed feelings about it.
Whilst in all the Museum you may use your camera at ease, here you can't. The notice isn't clear, as I saw it as if I couldn't use the flash (which is the usual!). So I held my camera and immediately a guard told me not to do so. So, keep in mind that you can't shoot the chapel, but a lot of people around you will be doing it. Neverthless, I didn't delete the photo I had already shoot, so here it is. :)
Also, as this is the main attraction of the Museum everybody concentrates here, making it a confusing, crowded and noisy room, not exactly what I had imagined, ... Along the visit, the guards remind people to keep quiet and to rush, as supposedly you can't stop for a long time, just walk by it.
By now, everybody knows that it was painted by Michelangelo, that when the Pope dyes bishops gather inside to vote and elect a new Pope so I won't be further detailing it, as there are excellent VT tips with historic information.
This place is FULL of people; the reason?? Because another masterpiece by Michelangelo: The Last Judgement and the Creation of Adam. Unfortunatelly pictures are not allowed but if you are a skilled tourist, you can have a picture without being noticed! Good luck!
PS: here you'll suffer of torticollis too so, prepare your neck!
It was hard to believe when were there that we were actually looking at the amazing Sistine Chapel. It is a must-see sight and worth dedicating some of time to sit and just look at it a while.
No photos allowed, but we did sneak one without flash.
It took 4 years for Michelangelo to complete the ceiling of Sistine Chapel. The result is a masterpiece which awes everybody who has been there. It is one of the most popular part of Vatican and it is not easy to keep the visitors quiet. You will hear "Silenzio!!!" warnings from the attendants. Take your time and sit down on the floor watching the fantastic ceiling. Photography is forbidden, but use your chances if you can. You can view the short video I took inside Sistine Chapel.