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Paintings in the Sistine Chapel

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First created 26 Jan 2011. Version 1.1 Jerry Tse. London.

Entrance Wall
The Entrance Wall collapsed in 1522, destroying the two paintings by Domenici Ghirlandaio and by Luca Signorelli. These painting were replaced at a later date by works on the same subjects by Hendrick van den Broeck and Matteo da Lecce.

North Wall

On the eye level, the wall is covered by a set of tapestries (not shown above), which are normally covered. Above the tapestries are two series of paintings The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ. They complement each other and was commissioned in 1480 during the construction of the building.

The following are paintings on the northern wall by Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli.

Perugino & Pinturicchio

Baptism shows the deeper spiritual belief of the new religion, Christianity.

Sermon of John the Baptist. The Baptism of Christ is equivalent to the spiritual circumcision of Judism, depicted on the painting on the opposite wall.

Christ Preaching.

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Christ met the devil after fasting 40 days in the wilderness, prior to his crucifixion.

Devil offered Christ riches and power to rule the world.

Devil challenged Christ to jump from the roof.

Devil challenged Christ to turn stone into bread.

A Jewish sacrificial offering scene, with the girl offering a bowl of blood to the priest. This is a hint of the coming crucifixion of Christ, who offer his flesh and blood for the salvation of mankind.

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A landscape background with a city, with castles and Churches.

Christ recruits the Apostles.

Christ on the shore with Simon, Peter and Andrew on their fishing boat.

Group of influential Florentine who lived in Rome.

A group of women, why? A Medici bankers in black standing behind Christ, who sponsored Ghirlandaio.

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Rosselli & Cosimo

Guildlines from Christ.

Christs Sermon on the Mount, at which he handed out Christian guidelines

The disciples

Christs healed the leper.

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Christ handed the key to haven to St Peter, who founded the church. This directly connected Christ to the Catholic church.

The triumph arch is a reference to Ancient Rome adopted Christianity.

Stoning of Christ


The Apostles.
The Virgin and the Apostles.

Perugino The architect

Christ handing the key to heaven to St Peter.

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Connecting Catholic practices and rituals to Christ

Christ praying on the mount

Christ Arrested


Chalice on the table refer to the institution of sacrament. Dancing dog

The wine

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South Wall

Above the row of paintings is a row of portraits of popes. Above the popes are paintings of the Ancestors of Christ (the Lunette). Above them is a row decorative paintings (Spandrel).

The following are paintings on the southern wall telling of stories of The Life of Christ and The Life of Mosses.


Signorelli was a student of Piero della Francesca. Part of the work was painted by Bartolomeo della Gatta. Angel led Moses to the mountain to see the Promise Land before he died.

The death of Moses

Joshua appointed as Moses successor

Not quite sure why this group of people were included with a male nude and a pregnant woman.

The Ark of Covenant with two tablet of the laws.

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This holds the key to understand the Sistine Chapel. The message is Any challenge to the authority of the church will be punished by God. The painting depicts three episodes in the rebellion against Gods chosen Moses and Aaron.

Innocents protected by standing on clouds

Aaron, the high priest attacked by mob, raised his incense burner, as rebels staggered and fell.

Rebellious mob threatened to stone Moses, with Joshua protecting them. Moses called God to punish the rebels, as they were swallowed by the Earth.

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Rosselli & Cosimo

Moses received the Ten Commandments.

Jewish laws from God.

Idol worshipers put to death. Moses showed the Ten Commandments to his people. Israelites worshiped the Golden Calf idol.

Moses smashed the Ten commandments in anger.

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Non-believers drown in pursuit of Gods chosen people.

Moses asked the pharaoh to release the Jews.

The Jews safely crossed the Red Sea with a miracle of God

Moses with staff in hand

The Egyptian army chasing the Jews were drown by the Red Sea

Prophetess Miriam

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7 episodes in the life of Moses.

God appeared in the burning bush.

Moses dispersed the shepherds, who stopped the daughters of Jethro using the well. Moses followed God commands and led Israeli out of Egypt.

Moses fled.

Moses attacked his Egyptian overseer.

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Perugino & Pinturicchio

Circumcision is a reference to the older Jewish religion.

Landscape painted by Pinturicchio

Journey to Egypt after exile.

Angel tells Moses to circumcise his son.


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Automatic advance
Completed in 1483, based on the dimension of the Temple of Solomon in Holy land.


At the centre of the ceiling is a row of nine paintings from the Book of Genesis. Originally, Michelangelo turn down the commission. He saw himself as a sculptor and not a painter. The work on the ceiling was started in 1508. It took 4 years to complete. It took its toll on Michelangelo working on his back. He also refused a team of assistants to help with the paintings. After he finished the work, he hardly painting anything until 24 years later when he started on the Last Judgment.

This is one of the four larger paintings on the centre of the ceiling. The painting is comprised of two scenes with God appears twice. With splendid foreshortening, Michelangelo succeeded created the illusion of God floating in the air.

God gives the life to Adam, at that moment man was created. Adam appears to be without energy. He barely able to raise his arm. God on the contrary is the source of energy. God was surrounded by characters, to form a shape that some interpreted as reassembling a human brain or a uterus.

Again the painting is divided into two scenes temptation and expulsion with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle.

A rather muscular Eve.

Michelangelo repainted some of the scene, as he was unhappy about the work of his assistance.


At the corner of the paintings on the ceilings are the Ignudi (The Nude). They are beautifully painted with animated posture. This one is unusual in that the head seems to be just stuck on the body, with a face of a female.

Sibyl is the Greek word meaning prophetess from the antiquity. They are only known through legends.

Delphic Sibyl, 1509.

Delphic Sibyl, 1509.

Erythraean Sibyl, 1509.

Persian Sibyl, 1511.

Libyan Sibyl, 1509.

Cumaean Sibyl, 1510.

Amongst the sybils are the prophets from the Bible, who foretold the coming of Christ.

Prophet Jonah, 1511.

Prophet Zechariah, 1508-09.

Prophet Jeremiah, 1511.

Prophet Joel, 1509.

Prophet Ezekiel, 1510.

Prophet Isaiah, 1509.

Prophet Daniel, 1511.

Ancestors of Christ
This is just of eight panels of the Ancestors of Christ. Each of one is made up of the bronze ignudi at the top, with figures painted on the spandrel and below are the ancestors of Christ painted on the lunette.

The Pendentives

On the four corners of the ceiling are paintings on the pendentives. This one tells the story of Judith and Holofernes, whose head was cut off by the Jewish heroine. Holofernes was sent by the Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar to punish the rebellious Israelites by destroying their city Bethulia.

Altar Wall
The wall is dominated by single painting. The Last Judgment painted by Michelangelo. It was painted some 24 years later, in 1535 and it took about 6 years to complete.

The painting is largely inspire by a Latin hymn and Dantes Inferno. It some 400 figures are on the painting. The painting is divided into several scenes or zones and organised into four tiers.
At the top is instrument of Passion, below is Christ the judge, surrounded by groups of the Blessed. Below the trumpets of the Last Judgment. On the left the righteous rise toward the heaven and the damned being driven into the Underworld.

Last Judgement
The Last Judgement is Michelangelos best painting. He started when his was in his mid-fifties. He chose a multiview point composition. The appearance of the demons of the Underworld shows his imagination was powerful as he ever been. The ascend of the Blessed and the driving of the Damned into the Underworld is as good as his paintings on the ceiling. He had never lost his sense of drama in telling the story. The painting is full of energy, vitality and movements. It is almost an animation. if Michelangelo is alive today, I think he would be an animator.

The Blessed.
St John the Baptist

Christ & the Virgin

Christ the Judge.

St Peter with keys

St Lawrence with his skin

St Catherine St Sebastian The skin is a self-portrait of Michelangelo

Is this a self portrait of Michelangelo?

This is Baigio da Cesena (central figure on the painting on the right), a papal master of ceremonies, often criticized Michelangelos work for the nude figures. So Michelangelo made him the Master of the Underworld, Mino, with donkeys ears (stupid). Have a closer look at what the green snake is biting.

When the fresco was unveiled, controversy raged about the nudity. It was left to Daniele da Volterra to cover the nudity with loin cloth and drapery. Thus Michelangelos masterpiece had been censored. The diagram above shows the areas that was repainted.

Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

Altogether, Michelangelo spent 10 years painting the Sistine Chapel 4 years for the ceiling and 6 years for the Last Judgment. It was his most important painting commissions and it includes a very large proportion of his known paintings. It is not possible to talk about the Sistine Chapel without discussing Michelangelo as a painter.

Michelangelo greatest achievements of the Sistine Chapel lies in his imagination, animated painted figures, the frozen energetic movements and the dramatic story that he told. The Sistine chapel testifies Michelangelo's monumental vision, showing humanity in all its guises and emotions, giant god-like figures modelled on contemporaries to make a timeless message. They illustrate the great Christian legends as didactic and moral lessons. The frescoes were intended to inspire awe, even terror, so that believers would obey their injunction and thus reaffirms the religious power of the Catholicism. Then the paintings in the Sistine Chapel are symbols of power, the legitimacy and the reasons for the existence of the Catholic Church. It was as icon of its cultural supremacy and wealth, in particular at a time when the Catholic Church was challenged by the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther posted his challenge to the Catholic in 1517. It also marks the apogee of Roman papal power and Italian artistic leadership of the world.

The End
Michelangelos self portrait.

Music Romeo and Juliet Are Wed composed by Nino Rota from the film Romeo and Juliet directed by Federico Fellini.
All rights reserved. Available free for non-commercial and non-profit use only