That is surely something that must be given due consideration, without the frescoes the Sistene Chapel loses its appeal. It is the same old argument of preservation, income from tourism (not that the Catholic Church is short of funds) and access to works of art for the general public.
When I visited in 2007 the chapel was full of people and it made it difficult to see the works of art that line the walls as well as the ceiling. I sneakily took a seat to enjoy the art works and due to the press of bodies I was out of sight of the security man and got away with sitting down on the job. I think the numbers should be reduced, perhaps with only pre-booked tickets at designated times. That would alleviate the queueing issue (I stood for several hours in the August heat before getting inside), make viewing the chapel and other Vatican sights more enjoyable and deal with the preservation concerns. What I would not like to see is the prices increase. As the Vatican says the Chapel is "not only a place of art but also a spiritual, religious place" so to price it out of most people's reach would not be a fair, or right thing to do. We shall just have to wait and see what actions the Vatican takes to preserve these wonderful works of art and hope they strike a happy balance.
|Author: Clayton Tang|
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
[...]my abiding memory of the Vatican was the Sistene Chapel. What had gone before, and what would follow, would be measured against the decorations in the chapel.
The chapel is a large hall dedicated for worship by the Pope. Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, after whom the chapel takes it name, construction on the site of the Cappella Magna, a medieval fortified hall, began in 1475 and was completed in 1483. On August 15th 1483, the Pope inaugurated the Chapel to Our Lady of the Assumption. We entered through a relatively small entrance with stern warning that we were not to take any photographs. Light entered the chapel through arched windows above which lunettes and triangular webs climbed the barrel-vault to the ceiling and Michelangelo’s renowned work. I took a pew on one of the stone benches to absorb the artwork.
It took Michelangelo four years to complete the fresco (1508-1512) replacing the original decoration of gold stars on a blue background with his work on the theme of the history of mankind before the coming of Christ. In the areas above the windows are Christ’s ancestors as divulged in Matthew’s Gospel and representatives of humanity in general, all waiting for the birth of Jesus. In the four corners pendentives are painted with scenes concerning the salvation of the people of Israel. ‘Judith and Holofernes’ shows Judith presenting the severed head of Holofernes to her maid, having killed Holofernes to prevent him attacking the Israeli army. The story of ‘David and Goliath’ is shown in another whilst ‘The Brazen Serpent’ alludes to the story of the Israelites, who having incurred the wrath of God and Moses, were plagued by reptiles. When the Israelis repented, Moses created a bronze serpent that could save anyone bitten by a snake. The final pendentive shows ‘The Punishment of Haman,’ a Persian vizier whose edict to kill any Jew who did not bow down before the king was overturned by Esther, resulting in Haman’s death.
Seated on thrones, six on each side of the ceiling, are the seven Prophets of the Bible and the five pagan Sibyls that predicted the coming of Christ. Each is reading a book or scroll, accompanied by angels or puttos. They lead to the nine rectangles that run down the centre of the ceiling. I stared long and hard at them fully expecting to see the Creation of Adam in the centre, so famous has that picture become (particularly in the UK where it was an integral part of the opening credits of a TV arts programme). It was not. The scenes were painted in a chronological order, with The Creation, The Story of Adam and the Story of Noah, each consisting of three parts in sequence. The scenes for The Creation showed the Separation of Light from Dark, the Creation of the Celestial Bodies and Plants, and the Separation of Land from the Sea. Then, in the fourth scene, came the Creation of Adam. The famous hands, with the touching of fingers, are off-centre thereby giving prominence to God in the picture. God may be prominent, but it is Adam’s body that is a study of human magnificence – man made in God’s image. This meant that the Creation of Eve took centre place in the sequence of nine, which drew a smile to my lips. Here, in one of the most misogynistic of organisations, was a woman taking centre-stage. It was a small victory, especially when Eve was shown as the cause of all the world’s problems in the sixth scene – Original Sin and the Expulsion from Paradise. The Sacrifice of Noah was difficult to make out some twenty metres beneath and through a sea of heads and the Salvation from the Flood was little easier. The Drunkenness of Noah though was quite clear to see, as naked and inebriated he lay outside his tent as a man worked the land. The whole effect is a riot of colour and activity.
It is not just the ceiling that is decorated with biblical scenes. Pope Sixtus IV commissioned many painters, including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Pinturicchio, to decorate the side walls of the chapel. Scenes from the lives of Moses and Christ, saviours and liberators of humanity, run the length. The cycle of redemption is ended with Michelangelo’s painting of The Last Judgement – the final and absolute judgement on Man’s destiny. Twenty years had passed from the ceiling paintings to The Last Judgement, from the beginning to the end. The brightness of the ceiling contrasted with the darker colourings of The Last Judgement. Real terror was shown in the faces of those consigned to their doom. Those that were on the path to salvation did not seem to have as equal a measure of joy as those without salvation had of terror. It was vengeance rather than forgiveness that we were seeing in the final picture. I gazed back up at the ceiling as we moved from the chapel so that brightness not darkness was my final memory.