Roger Harty: The Sistine Chapel

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ABOUT five years ago I had the pleasure of visiting The Sistine Chapel in The Vatican and ever since then it holds a special place in my heart.

I suppose it would be a fair comparison to say that visiting the Sistine Chapel to Roman Catholics would be the equivalent of visiting Mecca for the Muslim population.

I must say I didn’t have any great appreciation of it at the time, but having seen it and coming to understand it a bit more, my enthusiasm for it, in particular the ceiling, has grown no end.

I must also add that the real fascination I have has nothing really to do with religion at all and came as a big surprise even to myself.

A little bit of history first. The Sistine Chapel was restored  by Pope Sixtus IV between 1477 and 1480 and this is where it derived its name from. The ceiling of the Chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius ll and was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 – 1512.

The ceiling consists of series of frescos. Fresco is a style of painting using watercolour on fresh plaster used by the great masters of the Italian Renaissance.

What is even more remarkable here is that Michelangelo was renowned as a sculpture not as a painter.

He did not have a great relationship with Pope Julius II due to difficulties with payment and time pressure, but despite this managed to produce this most magnificent work of art.

Much is written about the effect the whole project had on his health and it is suggested that he developed scoliosis of the spine as he had to do much of his work lying on his back while suspended from the ceiling.

Michelangelo was responsible for the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the painting of the Last Judgement. During the reign of Pope Sixtus IV a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli,  Pietro Perugino,  Domencino Ghirlandaio and Cosmino Roselli, created a series  of frescos  depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits.

Of particular interest to me is the painting of ‘The Creation of Adam’ painted by Michelangelo which really is the centrepiece of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I often wonder is it a coincidence if he was to leave a message then perhaps the most important message would be left as the centrepiece  in the most recognised Ceiling in the most recognised Chapel in the most recognised Building (the Vatican) in the most recognised State in the most recognised City in terms of The Catholic faith.

I believe this image of the Creation of Adam by God, which basically is the creation of Man by God, has a very authentic and powerful message for all of us and tells a wonderful story.

Of similarity is the way that ancient Icons and poems like Aislings in the Irish language often deliver powerful hidden messages.

I will write about the reason I love this particular painting in my next article.

• My next article is — The Creation of Adam Painting.


  1. Thank you Mary