Michelangelo - Paintings, Sistine Chapel and David

Michelangelo - Paintings, Sistine Chapel and David

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Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter and architect widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance — and arguably of all time. His work demonstrated a blend of psychological insight, physical realism and intensity never before seen. His contemporaries recognized his extraordinary talent, and Michelangelo received commissions from some of the most wealthy and powerful men of his day, including popes and others affiliated with the Catholic Church. His resulting work, most notably his Pietà and David sculptures and his Sistine Chapel paintings, has been carefully tended and preserved, ensuring that future generations would be able to view and appreciate Michelangelo’s genius.

Early Life and Training

Michelangelo Buonarroti (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. His father worked for the Florentine government, and shortly after his birth his family returned to Florence, the city Michelangelo would always consider his true home.

Florence during the Italian Renaissance period was a vibrant arts center, an opportune locale for Michelangelo’s innate talents to develop and flourish. His mother died when he was 6, and initially his father initially did not approve of his son’s interest in art as a career.

At 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, particularly known for his murals. A year later, his talent drew the attention of Florence’s leading citizen and art patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici, who enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being surrounded by the city’s most literate, poetic and talented men. He extended an invitation to Michelangelo to reside in a room of his palatial home.

Michelangelo learned from and was inspired by the scholars and writers in Lorenzo’s intellectual circle, and his later work would forever be informed by what he learned about philosophy and politics in those years. While staying in the Medici home, he also refined his technique under the tutelage of Bertoldo di Giovanni, keeper of Lorenzo’s collection of ancient Roman sculptures and a noted sculptor himself. Although Michelangelo expressed his genius in many media, he would always consider himself a sculptor first.

Sculptures: The Pieta and David

Michelangelo was working in Rome by 1498, when he received a career-making commission from the visiting French cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, envoy of King Charles VIII to the pope. The cardinal wanted to create a substantial statue depicting a draped Virgin Mary with her dead son resting in her arms — a Pieta — to grace his own future tomb. Michelangelo’s delicate 69-inch-tall masterpiece featuring two intricate figures carved from one block of marble continues to draw legions of visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica more than 500 years after its completion.

Michelangelo returned to Florence and in 1501 was contracted to create, again from marble, a huge male figure to enhance the city’s famous Duomo, officially the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. He chose to depict the young David from the Old Testament of the Bible as heroic, energetic, powerful and spiritual, and literally larger than life at 17 feet tall. The sculpture, considered by scholars to be nearly technically perfect, remains in Florence at the Galleria dell’Accademia, where it is a world-renowned symbol of the city and its artistic heritage.

Paintings: Sistine Chapel

In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt him a grand tomb with 40 life-size statues, and the artist began work. But the pope’s priorities shifted away from the project as he became embroiled in military disputes and his funds became scarce, and a displeased Michelangelo left Rome (although he continued to work on the tomb, off and on, for decades).

However, in 1508, Julius called Michelangelo back to Rome for a less expensive, but still ambitious painting project: to depict the 12 apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a most sacred part of the Vatican where new popes are elected and inaugurated.

Instead, over the course of the four-year project, Michelangelo painted 12 figures — seven prophets and five sibyls (female prophets of myth) — around the border of the ceiling, and filled the central space with scenes from Genesis.

Critics suggest that the way Michelangelo depicts the prophet Ezekiel — as strong yet stressed, determined yet unsure — is symbolic of Michelangelo’s sensitivity to the intrinsic complexity of the human condition. The most famous Sistine Chapel ceiling painting is the emotion-infused The Creation of Adam, in which God and Adam outstretch their hands to one another.

Architecture & Poems

The quintessential Renaissance man, Michelangelo continued to sculpt and paint until his death, although he increasingly worked on architectural projects as he aged: His work from 1520 to 1527 on the interior of the Medici Chapel in Florence included wall designs, windows and cornices that were unusual in their design and introduced startling variations on classical forms.

Michelangelo also designed the iconic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (although its completion came after his death). Among his other masterpieces are Moses (sculpture, completed 1515); The Last Judgment (painting, completed 1534); and Day, Night, Dawn and Dusk (sculptures, all completed by 1533).

Later Years

From the 1530s on, Michelangelo wrote poems; about 300 survive. Many incorporate the philosophy of Neo-Platonism — that a human soul, powered by love and ecstasy, can reunite with an almighty God — ideas that had been the subject of intense discussion while he was an adolescent living in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s household.

After he left Florence permanently in 1534 for Rome, Michelangelo also wrote many lyrical letters to his family members who remained there. The theme of many was his strong attachment to various young men, especially aristocrat Tommaso Cavalieri. Scholars debate whether this was more an expression of homosexuality or a bittersweet longing by the unmarried, childless, aging Michelangelo for a father-son relationship.

Michelangelo died at age 88 after a short illness in 1564, surviving far past the usual life expectancy of the era. A pieta he had begun sculpting in the late 1540s, intended for his own tomb, remained unfinished but is on display at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence—not very far from where Michelangelo is buried, at the Basilica di Santa Croce.

The Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's masterpiece

When awarded the commission to paint the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was doubted by critics. Silencing them, his beautiful brushstrokes came to embody the peak of Renaissance art.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was better known as a sculptor when Pope Julius II tapped him to illuminate the Sistine Chapel. Known to the world as Michelangelo, the Florentine was just 24 when he sculpted his renowned “Pietà,” a tender depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling the lifeless body of her son. His towering “David” revealed his mastery of sculpting the human form.

For all the skill and beauty of his work with a chisel, it is perhaps his work with a brush for which he is remembered most of all. The bold colors and striking composition of his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel still awe viewers with their power and emotion. The Sistine ceiling and the “Last Judgment” stand as a testament to Michelangelo’s genius as a painter and evolution as an artist.

The Sistine ceiling was completed in 1512, a little before the Protestant Reformation. On the west wall, the “Last Judgment” fresco was unveiled nearly three decades later, as the effects of Martin Luther’s revolution spread across Europe. Both works reflect the spirit and themes of the times: the Renaissance love of the human body the tension between wealth and faith and, above all, an explosively vibrant rendering of the great stories of the Bible.

Early Life

Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, the second of five sons.

When Michelangelo was born, his father, Leonardo di Buonarrota Simoni, was briefly serving as a magistrate in the small village of Caprese. The family returned to Florence when Michelangelo was still an infant.

His mother, Francesca Neri, was ill, so Michelangelo was placed with a family of stonecutters, where he later jested, "With my wet-nurse&aposs milk, I sucked in the hammer and chisels I use for my statues."

Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel

This is it. The moment all Christians await with both hope and dread. This is the end of time, the beginning of eternity when the mortal becomes immortal, when the elect join Christ in his heavenly kingdom and the damned are cast into the unending torments of hell. What a daunting task: to visualize the endgame of earthly existence – and furthermore, to do so in the Sistine Chapel, the private chapel of the papal court, where the leaders of the Church gathered to celebrate feast day liturgies, where the pope’s body was laid in state before his funeral, and where—to this day—the College of Cardinals meets to elect the next pope.

Historical & pictorial contexts

Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, c. 1543, oil on canvas, 113.3 x 88.8 cm (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples)

The composition

Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

Christ, Mary, and Saints (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

Angels (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

The elect (those going to heaven)

The dead rise from their graves and float to heaven, some assisted by angels. In the upper right, a couple is pulled to heaven on rosary beads, and just below that a risen body is caught in violent tug of war (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome) fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

The damned (those going to hell)

Demons drag the damned to hell, while angels beat down those who struggle to escape their fate (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

Charon drives the damned onto hell’s shores and in the lower right corner stands the ass-eared Minos (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

In the company of Christ

Left: St. John the Baptist right: St. Peter (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, altar wall, Sistine Chapel, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

While such details were meant to provoke terror in the viewer, Michelangelo’s painting is primarily about the triumph of Christ. The realm of heaven dominates. The elect encircle Christ they loom large in the foreground and extend far into the depth of the painting, dissolving the boundary of the picture plane. Some hold the instruments of their martyrdom: Andrew the X-shaped cross, Lawrence the gridiron, St. Sebastian a bundle of arrows, to name only a few.

Especially prominent are St. John Baptist and St. Peter who flank Christ to the left and right and share his massive proportions (above). John, the last prophet, is identifiable by the camel pelt that covers his groin and dangles behind his legs and, Peter, the first pope, is identified by the keys he returns to Christ. His role as the keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven has ended. This gesture was a vivid reminder to the pope that his reign as Christ’s vicar was temporary—in the end, he too will to answer to Christ.

In the lunettes (semi-circular spaces) at the top right and left, angels display the instruments of Christ’s Passion , thus connecting this triumphal moment to Christ’s sacrificial death. This portion of the wall projects one foot forward, making it visible to the priest at the altar below as he commemorates Christ’s sacrifice in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

Lunette with angels carrying the instruments of the Passion of Christ, (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

Critical response: masterpiece or scandal?

Shortly after its unveiling in 1541, the Roman agent of Cardinal Gonzaga of Mantua reported: “The work is of such beauty that your excellency can imagine that there is no lack of those who condemn it. . . . [T]o my mind it is a work unlike any other to be seen anywhere.” Many praised the work as a masterpiece. They saw Michelangelo’s distinct figural style, with its complex poses, extreme foreshortening, and powerful (some might say excessive) musculature, as worthy of both the subject matter and the location. The sheer physicality of these muscular nudes affirmed the Catholic doctrine of bodily resurrection (that on the day of judgment, the dead would rise in their bodies, not as incorporeal souls).

Left: Apollo Belvedere, Right: Christ (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

A self-portrait

St. Bartholomew (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

An epic painting

Like Dante in his great epic poem, The Divine Comedy , Michelangelo sought to create an epic painting, worthy of the grandeur of the moment. He used metaphor and allusion to ornament his subject. His educated audience would delight in his visual and literary references.

Clockwise: Saint Blaise, Saint Catherine and Saint Sebastian (detail), Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, fresco, 1534-1541 (Vatican City, Rome)

Painting the Ceiling

Ceiling view, The Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

Michelangelo had first come to Rome to work on the Pope’s tomb and when Julius asked him to change projects to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the artist was far from happy. He had invested much time and effort in the tomb, and what’s more, he had no experience at all working with frescoes. He was a sculptor, not a painter, and Michelangelo felt his talents would be wasted working on a ceiling rather than the Pope’s monumental tomb. Finally, he begrudgingly agreed to take on the commission.

Over the following years, the artist did not become any more optimistic about his new project. He frequently complained to his friends about the physical discomfort he endured, craning his neck to look up at his work, and having paint constantly dripping onto his face. Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did not paint lying down but instead by standing upright on a scaffold and reaching his paintbrush above his head. The artist had designed and built the structure himself, after another architect attempted to install a support suspended from ropes. Michelangelo immediately put an end to this plan, outraged at the thought that holes would have to be drilled into his ceiling.

Art History- The Masters III- Michelangelo

How did Michelangelo paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel?

He painted them as a narrative story.

What is the name of the painting below?

It took Michelangelo 4 years to paint the ________ of the Sistine Chapel.

In addition to being a religious symbol, the statue David also _______________________.

Served as a reminder of Florence’s republican state.

What were Michelangelo’s feelings about painting in the Sistine Chapel?

What does David’s expression suggest?

That he is about to encounter danger.

A sculpture of Mary holding Jesus’ body

Which of the following is a tomb monument in the Vatican basilica of Saint Peter?

The Sistine Chapel paintings resulted in a new powerful style in ______ Renaissance.

What is the overall theme of the Sistine Chapel paintings?

What is the title of the work below?

What physical characteristic does Michelangelo commonly used in his frescoes?

He uses strong muscular forms.

How does Michelangelo emphasize that God made Adam in his own image in The Creation of Adam?

Adam’s form and pose mimic God’s.

What symbols did Michelangelo include in the sculpture titled New Sacristy?

Sistine Chapel

One of the world’s most famous chapels, the Sistine Chapel is located in Vatican City in the Italian capital of Rome within the Pope’s residence, the Apostolic Palace. It is especially famous for its ceiling which was painted by the artist Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and is revered as among his best painting. The chapel was refurbished in 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV when its name changed from Cappella Magna to Sistine Chapel. It continues to host religious and papal functions today and is the site of Papal conclaves (site where the College of Cardinals elects subsequent popes).

Designed by Baccio Pontelli, the Sistine Chapel replaced the Cappella Magna whose walls were slanted and in nearly ruined condition. Upon completion, Pope Sixtus IV commissioned several important artists to decorate the interior of the chapel with religious frescoes. Botticelli and Perugino are two of the artists who contributed artwork to the chapel. Perugino’s Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter is particularly noteworthy.

The chapel’s exterior is rectangular in shape and comprised of bricks. In many ways it is unlike historic churches of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance as its structure and façade are simple and largely unadorned. Instead, the chapel was built largely to replicate the Temple of Solomon as it was described in the Old Testament. While the outside of the chapel is noted for its simplicity, the interior is historically famous for its unsurpassed artwork and priceless decoration.

The walls of the chapel, during important events, are covered with tapestries designed by the artist Raphael. The tapestries depict scenes from the lives of the apostles Peter and Paul. Raphael’s original tapestries, however, were destroyed during the sack of 1527. The lower tier of the walls is predominantly decorated with silver and gold wall hangings. The middle tier contains paintings showing scenes from the life of Jesus as well as Moses. The top tier is divided in two. One section contains the Gallery of Popes the other showcases the Ancestors of Christ which was painted by Michelangelo.

The ceiling of the chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II. Upon it Michelangelo painted nine paintings that depict God’s Creation of the World, The Lord’s Relationship with Man, and Man’s Fall from Grace. Michelangelo’s paintings comprise twelve thousand square feet of the ceiling. The artist designed and built his own scaffold for the enormous commission. The artist initially turned down the project, but was persuaded when he was allowed to paint biblical scenes of his own choosing. The ceiling is striking for its magnificent execution as well as for its striking colors. Michelangelo also painted the wall behind the altar with his masterpiece The Last Judgment (1535-1541).

Anyone who has had the opportunity to see the chapel's ceiling up close must have noticed two things. One, that ceiling is high, and it is certainly filled with a lot of paintings. It is hard to imagine that one artist was able to do all that in under five years, and in a way, this knowledge brings the picture of Michelangelo to mind as he lay on his back and toiled away from one year to the next. There is little doubt that he knew his ceiling would become one of the most important in history, but then again Michelangelo was an extremely talented artist.

At first, the painter was instructed to paint a sort of geometric symbol to replace the then blue Chapel ceiling that was dotted with stars. This was back in 1508 when Michelangelo was under the commission of Pope Julius II. Instead, the artist chose to decorate the ceiling with the Old Testament scenes that the world knows and appreciates today.

Description of the Frescos

The frescoes are more than just mere decorations meant to impress the eye. These scenes tell a story – the story of mankind right from the very start. They tell the story that existed before all other stories came along – the story of creation. Divided into three sections, the scenes are arranged in chronological order with the first part of the narrative painted over the altar. Here, one will find three paintings – The Creation of Heavens and Earth, The Creation of Adam and Eve, and lastly The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Michelangelo then effortlessly follows up with a painting of Noah and the Great Flood.

He tells the same old story to the world, but the painter captures more in his frescos that anyone could ever imagine. By using ignudi (nude youth) to represent his message, Michelangelo preaches the message of the birth of Christ and finds a way to relate it to the creation of man.

The Techniques Used

Most of his paintings have narrative details as they show multiple figures all painted in small sizes. This makes one particular fresco stand out from all the rest – The Creation of Adam. In this fresco, the figures are monumental as they stretch out to meet each other across a void. The fact that it differs from the rest could be what makes the painting stand out from the rest, but despite the fact that it lacks narrative, the detail in this picture is still outstanding. Michelangelo's painting of The Deluge includes much more detail. Here, he paints the sky and the waters and uses the space available to him to portray four narratives.

The painting shows a cluster of people trying to avoid the rain by taking shelter under a makeshift object. On the left side are more people who are running up a mountain to try and get away from the rising waters. At the centre of the picture is a boat that seems to be overcome by the combined power of the rain and the raging sea. In the background of this picture, however, is salvation as a small team works to complete the building of the Ark. This picture shows tragedy, but there is a single ray of hope for the future of man. Those about to die are desperate and call for an observer's sympathy.

The picture makes one rethink the justice of God as he resorted to wiping out the entire world so that it could start all over again. But in saving Noah and his family, Michelangelo paints the salvation of God in its true form. There is another detail that is clear when the Sistine Chapel ceiling is observed up close. It is like there are two different sections that were painted by two different artists. This is probably because, during his labour, Michelangelo took a one year break in 1510. In images like The Deluge, we can see that the people are perishing in flood, but it is hard for one to make out their emotional state. By painting a cluster of people in a tight space, Michelangelo sacrificed any connection that might have been forged between an observer and those characters in his painting.

His later work uses more monumental figures that have clear faces and clear features, making it easier for people to connect with the paintings. Taking the Creation of Adam, for instance, we find that we can make out Adam's face to be lazy and relaxed with a slight sense of yearning. We can also make out the face of God to be serious as if he is hard at work in making his creation. One can perceive this even from the floor of the chapel. There is a little detail, but really, the superiority of Michelangelo's work after he took his break lies in the simplicity that he came to employ.

Nine Scenes from the Book of Genesis
Twelve Prophets and Sibyls
Ancestors of Christ

The Connection Observable in His Paintings

The paintings focus on the story that has been told in the book of Genesis, but there are forms that have been interpreted to portray the image of the Christ child. In the Creation of Adam, this child figure has been included to mean that even if man is created in the image and likeness of God, there is still room for sin and that God foresaw this sin. The frescos connect the Old Testament to the New Testament in a way that had never been done before. Michelangelo found a way to put this connection into art. He found a whole new way of presenting the scenes from the Bible, including the idea that Adam was brought to life through the simple touch of God's finger.

In an attentive order, the painter silently narrates the tale of Adam from the perfection that he was during creation to the sinner that his children became after the fall of mankind. There are nine narrative paintings on this ceiling, but the perspective used on the subjects is on a point that if one looks closely enough, they can almost see the figure rearing out of the ceiling wall. The characters used are ancient, yes, but after viewing these images, observers go out into the real world with vivid imaginations of what was and what is.

Michelangelo breached the gap between the past innocence, the present sinfulness, and the future redemption of mankind, making it all seem like one continuous story when it was in fact realised in centuries. It is possible that the painter's mind did not quite extrapolate this far when he was toiling away at the ceiling, but the idea just seems to fit so much that one cannot help but imagine what Michelangelo was thinking – imagine how the world would interpret his final masterpiece.

What was Michelangelo's Motivation?

It is not clear what inspired him to paint the ceiling, in fact, one might say that Michelangelo was anything but inspired when he started decorating the Sistine Chapel. Pope Julius II practically forced him to do it, so in a way, the Pope was his inspiration. The country during that time had been broken by war, and in an attempt to unite the people once again, the Pope saw it fit to have the chapel ceiling and walls repainted. The ceiling was meant to inspire divine servitude, so by using the power granted to the church, the Pope commissioned Michelangelo to paint 12 frescos that showed images of the 12 apostles of Christ.

These apostles were supposed to be painted in a geometric fashion. The painter was not inspired by this original commission, so he proposed that the scenes from the Old Testament story of creation be painted instead. He knew that the apostles of Christ had led poor lives and, therefore, hesitated to paint them in the glories of the world. This painter liked a challenge, and to him, painting 12 figures over such a big space didn't present much of a challenge. He instead opted to paint the 300 or so complex figures that now dominate the chapel ceiling.

It is said that a number of people, including the Pope's cousin Marco Vigerio Della Rovere inspired the design of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but this is just a theory. As one enters the chapel, the images of the rise of mankind are painted in reverse. This has been interpreted to mean that as one moves closer to the altar, they are moving closer to the glory of God – moving closer to his salvation.

At the entrance, one can see Noah in his drunkenness, and at the altar, one can see God as he separates the light from the dark. As an observer walks down to the altar, the story tells itself in reverse, and the very centre of the ceiling one can see God as he gives life to the first man, Adam. Painting these frescoes permanently damaged Michelangelo's spine, and while it might have been easy for him to paint the figures, it must have been difficult for him to give these figures the voice that they still pose even to this day.

The reversed order in which the frescoes are painted is, in a way, symbolic. Going towards the altar is going towards God and the rise of mankind, but going away from the altar and back into the outside world represents a walk that leads to the sinfulness and eventual fall of mankind.

The Style Used

The high-key colours used by the painter are extremely helpful to anyone who hopes to decipher the contents of the Sistine Chapel from 60 feet below. The colours are now brash and bright as compared to how they were before the ceiling was restored. There is a general white backdrop that brings out the yellows, the pinks, and the greens that the painter used to paint his characters to life. The use of old prophets and ancient sibyls has been interpreted in different ways over the years.

Sibyls foretold the birth of a saviour in the ancient times, but for the modern Christian, the birth of Christ was foretold by ancient prophets in the Old Testament. Michelangelo used sibyls and prophets to point to the same salvation that would be afforded to the entire human race. He paints one particular Sibyl in an interesting fashion, Libyan Sibyl. She is made to appear in the form of sculpture, much like all the characters that this artist portrayed. This sibyl's body is somewhat twisted as she sits on a garment looking over her shoulder towards the direction of the altar. Her image seems to fit perfectly in the environment that it has been placed.

There are triangular panels that are placed to the side of the central chapel panels. Within these triangular panels are figures that represent the ancestors of Christ. Separating these panels are representations of five sibyls and the seven prophets. The four corners of the chapel show four scenes inspired by the Old Testament. After he had finished painting Noah's drunkenness, Michelangelo looked at the images again, and after realising that they were not as imposing as he had intended, he opted to make them grander. So, as one walks towards the altar, the images become larger and larger. His work is religious in all fronts. The paintings, especially the deep sense of emotion evident in some of the character's faces, are a proof of Michelangelo's piety.

Finally came the Last Judgement that Michelangelo created 20 years after he had finished all the other paintings on the ceiling. This last image is located on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, and comparing how it was made versus how all the other images were made to appear, one can begin to understand why not much thought is given to it by observers. The talent employed in this picture is just as outstanding, but the Last Judgement carries around a concept of bleakness. This painting shows the second coming of Christ, and although the inspiration comes from the Bible, the artist used his vivid imagination to create the radiant picture filled with saints and angels. This painting shows the ultimate end of the human race after centuries of sin and disobedience.

The reason that most observers have deemed it to be a show of hopelessness is that Christ is seen to be plunging a majority of people into the damned fires of hell, it is only a few that are rising into heaven. Some figures are cowering before the son of God as he passes his final judgement. The images are somewhat disturbing and very realistic as the Saint Bartholomew holds out his skin and the Saint Andrew holding the cross that he was crucified on.

Michelangelo was to art what Shakespeare was to literature. These two characters in history represented new ideas. The painter tried to push forth a new idea of what was meant to be. Through these images, the religious world view he had becomes clear to the world. Michelangelo painted not to blind us to his perspective, but to give us a glimpse into his mind – into the world that he imagined. He painted and left his work free of interpretation, giving any observer the chance to drink in this marvellous creation and make their conclusions.

Right from the entrance of the chapel, the painter shows us a vision of what it was like for a man to meet the touch of God during creation. He shows us this in a bold and energetic way, using images of ancient prophets and seers to include the concept of the future. Looking at the Sistine Chapel ceiling is looking directly at the divine not through the eyes of Michelangelo, but through those of every human being ever created. These paintings are not limited by what has been preached, and they go beyond the rules that have been set about religion and fully express an idea of God that most people could not dare imagine.

More than 500 years down the line and the modern world is still in awe each time we look at Michelangelo's creation. After the chapel was cleaned, the real complexity of the artist's palette was exposed, and since then, the Sistine Chapel has become some school and inspiration for everyone around the world. At 33, this artist unwillingly started out on this commission to paint the pope's private chapel only for it to become the best thing he ever created. For a sculptor who insisted that he was not a painter, the work he did on the Sistine Chapel ceiling comes awfully close to perfect.

The period of 1508-1512 represented a key time in the career of Michelangelo as he set about constructing an array of frescos across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

This monumental task was to be completed with such immense creativity and technique that the artist himself was to become a household name from then on.

Certain specific elements of the overall piece are considered masterpieces in their own right, and to see them all together is truly extraordinary.

The popularity of Michelangelo's work is also shown in the fact that he was invited back some years later to complete The Last Judgement painting which sat on the altar wall, close to his previous work.

Michelangelo was an artist with huge confidence as well as technical ability which was necessary in order to take on such a challenging request, which had come from Pope Julius II.

The complex combinations of figures across the ceiling has helped many budding artists to understand the true skills of the artist in capturing the human body in a manner of different ways. His understanding of anatomy was impressive and necessary to produce such lifelike and believable portraits.

All of Michelangelo's work on the ceiling is now over 500 years old and so it has been very necessary to continuously protect the frescos and plaster work from all natural elements as well as enthuastic tourists who have been flocking to the Chapel for centuries.

There have also been restorative work in recent generations to remove darkening effects from natural elements that can never be entirely guarded against. The nature of this large artwork also means that it is harder to look after than a normal sized standard painting or sculpture.

The art within the Sistine Chapel, which also includes work by many other notable Italian artists, underlines the wealth and status of the Pope and Christianity itself at that time. Quite simply, it could attract and afford commissions with the finest artists of that time and Michelangelo was clearly around the top of that list.

We Calculated the Total Number of Dicks in Michelangelo’s Oeuvre

When it comes to Michelangelos, the artist Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is only my second favorite. My third favorite was a mediocre pizza joint by my aunt’s house when I was a kid, but they closed in the 1990s, so really, the competition of “Who’s the best Michelangelo?” is only between the Renaissance artist and the nunchuck -wielding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle .

While I admit that I have advanced knowledge of the Ninja Turtle and limited knowledge of the actual human being, from my perspective, the turtle is just way better, surely? He’s trained in martial arts! He knows how to throw a good pizza party ! That other Michelangelo, all I know for sure about him is that he painted a whole bunch of dicks.

But how many dicks? Well, let’s find out!

The first of Michelangelo’s dicks is undeniably the strangest. I’ll get to David and other, more recognizable nether regions later, but the first known painting done by Michelangelo was completed when he was just 12- or 13-years-old. Based on the engraving The Temptation of Saint Anthony by the artist Martin Schongauer , Michelangelo painted this around 1488:

Not seeing any penises? Well, neither did I, at first, but then I took a closer look at all those demons attacking that old dude, and I found this:

Yes, that’s a very pointy demon penis, complete with weird balls, a gaping asshole and some ass-eyes to boot. Frankly, I’m glad that the style Michelangelo would become known for was nothing like this, as I don’t think I could take counting up hundreds of demon cocks.

Next up is The Young Archer , which looks much more like what we’d expect from a young Michelangelo, who is believed to have sculpted it around age 16. What’s impressive about The Young Archer is that you can already see Michelangelo’s immense talent when it comes to the human form. “He was good at everything really, it wasn’t just nudity,” says art history professor William E. Wallace, author of Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times and several other Michelangelo books . “Michelangelo painted, he sculpted, he was an architect. There was something really remarkable about him — he had a gift — but he also worked really hard at it.”

Unfortunately, the archer is missing his little arrow, it having fallen off sometime between 1492 and 1996, when the sculpture was rediscovered . So, despite young Michelangelo’s obvious talent, it’s hard to say how refined his dick-carving skills were at this point.

The Young Archer, who, in addition to missing his dick, is probably a lousy shot.

Next we turn to The Battle of the Centaurs from 1492. This piece is chock-full of naked dudes, but only three of them have their penises visible. One of which, by the way, is the penis of Socrates ! Later on, Michelangelo did a similar piece called Battle of Cascina , which also had a ton of naked guys fighting, but only four of which have visible penises.

Michelangelo’s next dick is yet another lost dick, but this one went missing along with its owner, the Roman demigod Hercules. Michelangelo’s Hercules was sculpted in 1492 at the palace of Lorenzo de Medici . In 1529, it was gifted to the King of France and was last seen in 1713, when it may have been destroyed . Fortunately, we have a pretty good idea of what it looked like thanks to drawings of it, so we do know for sure that it included Hercules’ less-than-herculean love muscle.

A copy of Michelangelo’s Hercules by artist Peter Paul Rubens.

The subject matter of Hercules also offers a bit of insight as to why Michelangelo sculpted so many nudes to begin with. As Wallace explains, “The reason why nudity is so common in Michelangelo’s work is that it was common in antiquity. ‘Renaissance’ means ‘rebirth’ and the artists of the Renaissance were looking back toward Greece and Rome, but mostly Rome for Michelangelo.”

Next up is some Christ cock! I’m not a religious person, but I feel like most of the depictions I’ve seen of Jesus on the cross have him wearing a loincloth, which raises the question: Was Jesus crucified naked, or in a loincloth? No matter, that’s an investigation for another day.

Jesus, sans loincloth

Over the course of his career, Michelangelo sculpted and painted Jesus a lot there were, however, only a few times where Jesus had his dick out. All told, he sculpted adult Jesus’ dick six times and baby Jesus ’ baby dick three times (also, one of the baby Jesus sculptures includes a naked toddler of John the Baptist, so that’s another one). Michelangelo also painted Jesus’ dick twice. Jesus was depicted in much larger works as well — like the Sistine Chapel — but right now I’m just talking about the pieces where Jesus is the main subject.

This one is Christ the Redeemer. Michelangelo did sculpt Jesus’ dick here, but someone covered it up later with a bronze loincloth, the damned prudes.

At this point, I should also note that there are many drawings by Michelangelo that include frontal male nudity — including that of Jesus — but I’m only counting Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings (the only exception being the already-mentioned Battle of Cascina , which is considered a completed cartoon ). The reason why I’m not counting the drawings is that Michelangelo’s drawings are usually incomplete works that he simply created to plan for something larger. He would even go as far as to destroy many of his drawings so that no one would see his works in progress. Thus, out of deference to Michelangelo’s wishes, I will not be counting any of his sketched penises or any of his models made of clay or wood, as they were all just for planning bigger stuff.

If you get to the end of this thing and deem it to be an insufficient amount of dick, you can always go looking for Michelangelo’s sketches.

Next up is some more Cupid cock. Aside from the archer that I noted earlier — which might have been Cupid — Michelangelo sculpted a sleeping Cupid and a standing Cupid in the late 1490s, both of whom had their dicks out. That brings us to 24 dicks total.

Then there’s the sculpture of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, from 1497. Bacchus’ penis chipped off some centuries ago, but it still counts. Even more interesting is the presence of a little goat man in this sculpture, who also has his dick out. Fortunately, the goat-man’s dick is far less frightening than that earlier demon dick.


Now, finally, for dick number 27, we arrive at the David . To offer a bit of background, Wallace again refers to Michelangelo’s Roman influence. “Michelangelo had just come from Rome after five years looking at ancient sculptures, and the David was a carving of an ancient statue all over again, just in a giant size.” Fortunately, though so many of Michelangelo’s sculptures have degraded over the years, a great deal of care has been taken to preserve the David , so the statue — and its penis — remain intact.

Snark is my natural inclination for so much of this kind of stuff, but the David is such a renowned, extraordinary and beautiful piece of art that I feel like an asshole just trying to come up with a joke here. So, let’s just admire the David and its still-attached penis:

Michelangelo sculpted three nude slaves as well, and though it’s lost today, there was also a small bronze David that Michelangelo completed around the same time as the big one, bringing the running dick total to 31.

Here’s where shit gets nuts. Apparently, unsatisfied with just sculpting one dick at a time, Michelangelo decided to up his dick-art game by painting a bunch of penises all at once. The first of these great dick feasts is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which, along with the David , is Michelangelo’s most famous work.

To count all of these dicks, I had to be methodical. Between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo painted more than 5,000 square feet of the Sistine Chapel, which includes 49 different individual scenes, so, to make sure I didn’t miss a prick, I had to go one section at a time and mark each penis, then count them up at the end. This took hours of examination, as each section had to be looked up and scoured for dick separately. At the end of it all, I counted a total of 57 penises on just the ceiling, which wasn’t the only part of the chapel that Michelangelo painted.

This is my actual worksheet, and every pink dot is a penis location. I changed the image to black and white so that the dicks stand out. There are 57 here.

In addition to those 57 dicks, there are another seven dicks at the lower edges of the ceiling and another three dicks in the chapel’s lunettes, which are the sections Michelangelo painted over the windows.

A lunette featuring one baby penis

Finally, Michelangelo returned to paint more of the Sistine Chapel in 1534, creating a huge mural named The Last Judgment. The dicks here are especially notable, as Wallace explains, “The nudity in The Last Judgment was an issue from the beginning, and people did object to it, feeling it was inappropriate. On the other hand, if you think of what the subject is, it makes sense. It’s the last judgment, and on the day of the last judgment, you’re going to be judged before God and you’re not going to go with a tuxedo on, you’re going to stand naked before him. But, because some people objected to it, some of the nudes were painted over, even in Michelangelo’s lifetime.”

Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, which is painted onto a wall in the Sistine Chapel.

On the current version of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, I counted a mere 17 penises, which is kind of underwhelming considering that the painting appears to be of hundreds of naked dudes. But, fortunately, before any of the changes were made, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese commissioned a copy of the work in 1549 by artist Marcello Venusti . Venusti’s copy now resides in the National Museum of Capodimonte , and most art historians believe it offers a true representation of Michelangelo’s original.

Venusti’s copy of The Last Judgment

By examining Venusti’s copy, I located another 19 visible dicks in addition to those 17 that remained. That brings the total number of dicks that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel to 103, and if you add that to the running total, Michelangelo’s got 134 dicks so far (and we’re not done yet).

While he was painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo also sculpted The Genius of Victory , as well as two naked dudes riding panthers , adding three more dicks to the list.

Okay, Michelangelo, you were definitely trying too hard with these.

In the 1520s and 1530s he sculpted some figures for the Medici Chapel , two of which were naked dudes with their dicks exposed. And in 1530 he sculpted a nude Apollo , bringing our running total to 140

Michelangelo’s final work was the Rondanini Pietà , which was a sculpture of a nude Christ along with the Virgin Mary. I already counted that back in my Jesus tally, so the only things left to count are the penises from Michelangelo’s final two paintings, The Conversion of Saul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter , both of which are in the Vatican . However, for both of these pieces, their degree of dick is difficult to discern. For one, they both hang in an area of Vatican City that’s off-limits to visitors, which means there aren’t a ton of clear, hi-res pictures of these murals. Also, they were left to decay for a few centuries, and when they were finally restored, it once again seems that some loincloths were added to hide Michelangelo’s original nudity.

Originally, that scrap of cloth didn’t cover St. Peter’s peter.

The best guess, though, is that The Crucifixion of St. Peter originally had one exposed penis and The Conversion of Saul had four ( which I discerned from a copy of it ). All told, that means that, in his 88 years on planet Earth, Michelangelo sculpted and painted a total of 145 penises that were part of a finished work.

Honestly, when I started on this venture, I figured that there would have been hundreds, if not thousands of Michelangelo dicks out there. But when I consider the fact that Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor and that most of his works took years to create, 145 penises is certainly not too shabby.

That said, this is yet another area where I wonder if Michelangelo the Renaissance painter falls short of the heroic reptile named after him. After all, Michelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is a teenager, and he’s been a teenager since 1984, so, if you total up all the dicks he’s inevitably graffitied all over the walls of New York City’s sewers in the past 36 years, he might, once again, outdo Michelangelo, Renaissance (cock) master.

Brian VanHooker

Brian VanHooker is a writer at MEL. He is the co-creator of the John O'Hurley pilot ‘The Tramp’ and co-created 'Barnum & Elwood.’ He also hosts a TMNT interview podcast.

The Plot Behind Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Masterpiece

God offers life to Adam – the Sistine Chapel ceiling centrepiece

By Ray Setterfield

September 11, 1503 — On this day Michelangelo began sculpting the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ in marble. They were to stand in niches at Florence Cathedral. He abandoned the project two years later when he was summoned to Rome to build a tomb for Pope Julius II.

The tomb was scheduled to be finished in five years. It included forty statues and was on such a grand scale that the Pope and Michelangelo agreed Saint Peter&rsquos Basilica would have to be rebuilt to house it.

The five-year deadline came and went, and Michelangelo continued working on the tomb for 40 years. Even so, it was never completed to his satisfaction. It is now located in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) in Rome and is famous particularly for Michelangelo&rsquos magnificent statue of Moses.

Delays in the tomb&rsquos completion could partly be explained by the Pope&rsquos tendency to find new projects for Michelangelo. At one stage he ordered a colossal bronze statue of himself. The sculptor spent more than a year modelling and casting the figure, which, three years later, was melted down to make a cannon!

The principal architect for St Peter&rsquos Basilica, Donato Bramante, was said to be resentful about the young upstart Michelangelo being given such a big commission as the tomb project, and plotted against him. Michelangelo was famous as a sculptor, especially because of his five-metre tall statue of David, and his Pieta, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ. But he was not as highly esteemed for his art work.

Giorgio Vasari, an Italian writer at the time, and himself an artist and architect, recorded that Bramante joined forces with the painter Raphael in persuading the Pope that Michelangelo should paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where the conclave, baptisms and other official ceremonies take place.

Michelangelo's two artistic rivals hoped, according to Vasari, that the sculptor would make a poor job of it, fall out of public favour and have to leave Rome.

The man himself had strong doubts. He protested that he was no painter, but the Pope insisted, so Michelangelo began to work alone and in great discomfort, sticking at his painstaking task for four years.

What resulted was a monumental work of genius illustrating stories from the Old Testament including the Creation of the World, and Noah and the Flood. Bramante's hopes were dashed, and Michelangelo&rsquos work became &ndash and remains &ndash one of the greatest masterpieces of Western Art. It is now admired every year by millions of tourists from all over the world.

In 1787, philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: &ldquoWithout having seen the Sistine Chapel, one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.&rdquo

Michelangelo was born to Leonardo di Buonarrota and Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena, a middle-class family of Italian bankers on March 6, 1475. He died of a fever aged 88 on February 18, 1564 after walking in the cold night air.

The Pope wanted him to be interred at St. Peter&rsquos but Michelangelo&rsquos nephew and heir, Leonardo, took the body back to Florence to be buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce. More than a hundred artists attend his funeral.

*According to some reports, Galileo Galilei, the &ldquofather of modern science&rdquo, shifted his official birth date by 24 hours to coincide with the day Michelangelo passed away. He had in mind the assertion that genius never dies.


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