Bible Review 4:4, August 1988
Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling

Understanding The Sistine Chapel & Its Paintings

By Suzanne F. Singer

Pope Sixtus IV built the Sistine Chapel in Rome in 1475–1481 as his private chapel. The chapel, which bears the pope’s name, appears from the outside to be a fortlike rectangular structure. The interior of the chapel is a plain rectangular space 130 feet long and 45 feet wide with a shallow ceiling vault rising to a maximum height of 60 feet above the chapel floor. Six windows penetrate each of the long walls.

As we describe the Chapel paintings, turn to the pictures on the following pages.

The worshipper enters the chapel through its eastern side, on the narrow end of the rectangular structure. Directly opposite, at the other end of the chapel, is the altar and behind the altar, occupying western wall, is Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment. The long north and south walls, on the right and left as one faces the altar, are covered with a series of paintings by several leading painters of 15th century: Botticelli, Perugino and others. On the south wall are scenes from the life of Christ; on the north wall are scenes from the life of Moses. Completely covering the vaulted ceiling are Michelangelo’s paintings of scenes from Genesis, accompanied by biblical and non-biblical figures (see ceiling plan).

The ceiling divides into four areas:

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.