(b. 1445, Firenze, d. 1510, Firenze)

St Sixtus II

Fresco, 210 x 80 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

Originally, in the register above the history paintings, the decoration of the Sistine Chapel consisted of twenty-eight portraits of early popes who had died as martyrs. (Four of them, the portraits of the first four popes on the altar wall, have not survived). The two rows of popes do not appear in chronological order, the sequence moves back and forth between the north and south wall to form a zigzag pattern. It is assumed that the papal portraits were executed by the assistants of the four masters (Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli) entered into contract for the decoration. However, it is possible to identify specific stylistic features in many of the portraits, and it therefore appears that Botticelli designed an unusually large share of them, seven portraits including that of Sixtus II.

The portraits of the popes are imaginary. As can be seen in the figure of Sixtus II, a namesake of the pope who commissioned the work, they are full length figures placed in niches and painted, so as to be seen from far below, high up on the walls of the room. All popes are shown wearing pontifical robes and the tiara.