The Sistine Chapel is one of the world's top artistic tourist destinations, but though it receives millions of visitors a year, there are many secrets most people don't know.
By Eduardo Limón
As it happens with all the major tourist destinations, there are countless stories about the Sistine Chapel (some fake, others real). This Renaissance wonder commissioned to Michelangelo is surrounded by all kinds of stories, from tales about the artwork hiding secret Pagan, to anonymous artists, censorship, and many other facts, but there’s still so much about the Sistine Chapel that remains a secret for many.
1. Originally known as Cappella Magna, devoted to the Virgin Mary, the Chapel was named after Pope Sixtus IV, who ordered its restoration between 1475 and 1481.
2. Michelangelo created his famous frescoes between 1508 and 1512.
3. It’s considered to be the Pope’s private chapel and, as described in the Old Testament, it has the exact same dimensions as King Solomon’s Temple.
4. Michelangelo wasn’t happy when he was commissioned to paint it, since he preferred doing sculptures. However, the ceiling and the "Last Judgement" are his most celebrated works.
5. Pope Sixtus IV also commissioned some frescoes to Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Pietro Perugino, among other artists from the time.
6. To paint the ceiling, Michelangelo built his own innovative scaffold, which allowed him to paint more comfortably. Contrary to what most people think, he didn’t paint lying down, and he had plenty of space to do it in a standing position.
7. Michelangelo was the very first artist to give God a physical appearance, giving us the most common, human-like image of God with his muscular physiognomy and long white beard, similar to that of the Roman God, Jupiter.
8. The "Last Judgement" piece was deliberately done with a different perspective so that it looks threateningly to the spectator.
9. Michelangelo gave us an iconic, less Orthodox image of Jesus Christ. In his work, he appears as a young muscular man, without a beard. He appears as an energetic and wrathful being, which contrasts with canonical images of him as a merciful man.
10. Since 1870, the Sistine Chapel has been the site of the papal conclave; that is, the process during which cardinals elect a new Pope.
11. Underneath the "Last Judgment," there’s a hall known as the “Room of Tears,” where, according to legend, the recently elected popes burst in tears out of excitement after being given the title.
12. There’s a permanent chorus called Schola Cantorum that has original pieces only they can perform. Among them, the most famous one is “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri.
13. In one of the latest restorations during the nineties, art experts were able to fully appreciate and analyze Michelangelo’s techniques and how, as he commented on his own writings, using his scaffold ended up damaging his back.
Besides Michelangelo's impressive technique, one of his greatest legacies to the world was the impressive iconographic complexity of his work. From images that have become how we see important religious characters, to the emotional depth he gave to his subjects, he truly deserves the epithet genius.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards