Sistine Chapel

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Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel (sĭsˈtēn) [for Sixtus IV], 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 Michelangelo. 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 Perugino, Pinturicchio, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Signorelli 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 Raphael 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).

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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Dean, Introduction to Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cappella Sistina MS 46, Renaissance Music in Facsimile, xxi (New York, 1986), pp.x-xi.
(It is only from 1605, the year in which Paul V was elected, that these diaries begin to be practically complete and exhaustive.) On these feast-days the cantori of the Cappella Sistina, following their participation in morning Mass, would go to the pontifical apartments for the customary performance of 'motets' ('i soliti mottetti' or 'il solito mottetto') during the pope's dinner.
De Pape's assertions do not, of course, apply automatically to the Roman singers, although in the Cappella Sistina the party of the Franco-Flemish cantori was still very strong in 1583, as shown by Giuseppe Baini.(22)
Julius III reduces the number of singers to 24 and declares that henceforth singers may be admitted to the choir in excess of that number only if they pass an audition and obtain a motu proprio from the pope (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, fondo Cappella Sistina 646, f.84r: motu proprio without date (1553?)).
Paul IV removes married singers from the choir (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, fondo Cappella Sistina 646, f.92r).(43)
The original constitution is preserved in Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, fondo Cappella Sistina [VatS] 611 and is transcribed in F.
Both the Cappella Giulia and the Cappella Sistina remained constant in size, with about 18 and 30 singers respectively.
Only in the performances of the Cappella Sistina was the organ actually outlawed, though even that conservative institution relaxed its general regulations when the vespri segreti were performed in the presence of the pope on four occasions each year.(14) Organs were used with greater regularity in most other institutions, however, and while one might have thought that their role was to provide 'incidental' music for the liturgy, various references even suggest that they were used with the voices in polyphony at quite an early date.