A visit to the Vatican and particularly the Sistine Chapel in Rome is an experience of a lifetime. When I went to Italy after visiting the Vatican I took an extra day before coming home just so I could return to the Vatican. Experiencing the eloquent high Renaissance art in the Vatican was enough to send me straight to heaven. 


I have never been as enthralled as I was there. The Sistine Chapel wasn’t as large as I had imagined it, although if you saw the movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy” you got a pretty accurate vision inside the Chapel. If you haven’t seen that movie by the way it is a must see for artists. The plot is pretty accurate from recorded history of what actually took place while Michelangelo was painting the ceiling. 


His tumultuous relationship with the pope is incredible and is what makes the movie so interesting. When anyone mentions the Sistine Chapel we all immediately think Michelangelo. The chapel was not renowned until after Michelangelo painted the ceiling. That was the one important work that made Michelangelo so famous in his own time, but not the only one for sure. 


But the Sistine Chapel ceiling is only a fraction of the Vatican, and really only part of the artistic beauty of the chapel itself. Few people have studied enough to know, or even care who else worked on the paintings and sculptures in the chapel. The walls are covered with beautiful frescoes painted slightly prior to but still during the time of Michelangelo. Sandro Botticelli and three of his protégés painted the walls, all of them, in less than eleven months. Botticelli designed them, and they all four worked on the painting. The motifs of the walls are scenes from the Old and New Testament of the Bible and the lives of Moses and Jesus Christ. Many have very complex composition with multitudes of life sized people. 


The paintings have the Botticelli “look”, that sublime innocence in the faces of the figures. Botticelli was required to make sketches and pre-paintings on the walls before they could be approved. It was while the artists were working on these that the pope could see no need for approval the work was so excellent. So they began the final renderings right away and finished in under a year. 


While I was in the Sistine Chapel people were allowed in groups to view the ceiling. We were only allowed 15 minutes to take in all that beauty then were herded out the opposite end of the chapel. While there, most people’s attention is focused on the ceiling. Naturally this is why people want to go there. But if they would only have looked down at the walls and how beautifully they were painted. Botticelli is much underrated when it comes to this. 


Actually, there is work in that chapel by many of the most celebrated Renaissance artists: Rafael, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Bernini. After 500 years of fame Michelangelo is still getting all the billing. I’m sure Botticelli would not be too happy about that. There was considerable animosity among the Renaissance artists and their work. Next time you get in to a conversation at a cocktail party about the Sistine Chapel, throw that name out there; Botticelli, also the famous Renaissance fresco painter. Now you know a little trivia most people don’t.

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