Sistine Chapel

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Sistine Chapel

(sĭs`tēn) [for Sixtus IVSixtus IV
, 1414–84, pope (1471–84), an Italian named Francesco della Rovere (b. near Savona); successor of Paul II. He was made general of his order, the Franciscans, in 1464 and became (1467) a cardinal.
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], private chapel of the popes in Rome, one of the principal glories of the Vatican. Built (1473) under Pope Sixtus IV, it is famous for its decorations. By far the best-known achievements in the chapel are the work of MichelangeloMichelangelo Buonarroti
, 1475–1564, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, b. Caprese, Tuscany. Early Life and Work

Michelangelo drew extensively as a child, and his father placed him under the tutelage of Ghirlandaio, a respected artist of the day.
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. Across the ceiling he painted nine episodes from Genesis. There are representations of the stages of creation, Adam and Eve's temptation and fall, and Noah and the Deluge. Below these scenes are the statuesque figures of prophets and sibyls, with episodes from the Old Testament in the spandrels, all designed to prefigure the salvation of Christianity. The last great work Michelangelo executed in the chapel is The Last Judgment, on the altar wall.

Frescoes by PeruginoPerugino
, c.1445–1523?, Umbrian painter, b. near Perugia. His real name was Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci. Perugino is, after Raphael, the greatest painter of the Umbrian school.
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, PinturicchioPinturicchio
or Pintoricchio
[Ital.,=little painter], c.1454–1513, Umbrian painter whose real name was Bernardino di Betto. A prolific and facile painter, he was influenced by Perugino, with whom he collaborated on the frescoes for the Sistine Chapel.
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, BotticelliBotticelli, Sandro
, c.1444–1510, Florentine painter of the Renaissance, whose real name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi . He was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi, whose delicate coloring can be seen in such early works as the Adoration of the Kings
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, GhirlandaioGhirlandaio or Ghirlandajo, Domenico
, 1449–94, Florentine painter, whose family name was Bigordi. He may have studied painting and mosaics under Alesso Baldovinetti. Ghirlandaio was an excellent technician.
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, RosselliRosselli, Cosimo
, 1439–1507, Florentine painter. He was one of the artists summoned to Rome by Sixtus IV to assist in decorating the Sistine Chapel. He painted The Last Supper and other subjects for it.
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, and SignorelliSignorelli, Luca
, 1441?–1523, Italian painter of the Umbrian school, who probably studied with Piero della Francesca. He worked in Cortona, where some of his paintings have remained.
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 cover the side walls of the chapel. They depict scenes from the lives of Moses and Jesus, symbolizing the reign of law and of grace, respectively. There are also varicolored marble mosaics on the chapel's floor. Another treasure of the chapel is its collection of illuminated music manuscripts in the archives of the choir. A dozen tapestries designed by RaphaelRaphael Santi
or Raphael Sanzio,
Ital. Raffaello Santi or Raffaello Sanzio , 1483–1520, major Italian Renaissance painter, b. Urbino. In Raphael's work is the clearest expression of the exquisite harmony and balance of High Renaissance composition.
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 for the chapel's lower walls are no longer hung there.

In 1980 cleaning and restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes began with the test cleaning of small areas; full-scale work started the following year and was completed in 1994. The cleaning became controversial as it proceeded, as many experts accused the restorers of distorting or destroying the frescoes, but others defended the work, astonished at the colorist that the restoration revealed the artist to be. The cleaning of chapel frescoes by Botticelli, Perugino, and other painters was completed in 1999.


See C. Pietrangeli, The Sistine Chapel (1986); The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration (1995).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sistine Chapel


a chapel in the Vatican in Rome, one of the most outstanding landmarks of Italian Renaissance art.

The Sistine Chapel, which has a rectangular floorplan, was built by the architect G. dei Dolci from 1473 to 1481. It was consecrated in 1483 during the papacy of Sixtus IV, after whom it was named. The lower portions of the interior walls have no paintings but on great ceremonial occasions are covered with tapestries woven according to cartoons by Raphael (1515–16). Between 1481 and 1483 the chapel walls were painted with frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Moses and Christ. The frescoes were executed by Botticelli, Pinturicchio, Rosselli, Signorelli, Ghirlandaio, and Perugino. From 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo frescoed the ceiling, lunettes, and vaults. His paintings for the chapel are among the outstanding treasures of world art. Between 1536 and 1541, Michelangelo executed the Last Judgment for the wall behind the altar.

The Sistine Chapel is open to the public for viewing.


Ettlinger, L. D. The Sistine Chapel Before Michelangelo. Oxford, 1965.
Seymour, C. Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel Ceiling. London [1972]. [23–1062–]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.