(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Interior of the Sistine Chapel

1475-83, 1508-12
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

The picture shows a view of the interior of the chapel toward the entrance wall.

According to the original decorative program (1475-83), the walls are divided into three orders by horizontal cornices; the lower of the three orders was to be painted with fictive "tapestries," the central one with two facing cycles - one relating the life of Moses (left wall) and the other the Life of Christ (right wall), starting from the end wall, where the altar fresco, painted by Perugino, depicted the Virgin of the Assumption, to whom the chapel was dedicated. The upper order is endowed with pilasters that support the pendentives of the vault. Above the upper cornice are situated the lunettes. Between each window below the lunettes, in fictive niches, run images of the first popes - from Peter to Marcellus - who practiced their ministry in times of great persecution and were martyred.

Michelangelo later (1508-12) frescoed the ceiling with the pendentives, and the lunettes. After Michelangelo painted the ceiling, it was radically different in appearance from the chapel Sixtus IV had rebuilt and decorated. The artist did not overlook any element - beginning with a remarkable use of colour - that could harmonize his frescoes with those of the fifteenth-century decorative cycle, especially the figures of the popes in the niches between the windows, immediately below the lunettes. The visitor's attention is at once attracted by the great power of the whole composition of the ceiling and the tremendous energy of the individual figures.