Michelangelo, the Pope, and the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni and Pope Julius II had, at times, a testy relationship. They respected and liked each other, but each was a difficult personality in his own right.  Michelangelo was touchy, irritable, and quick to anger; the Pope was demanding, intrusive, and also quick to anger.

The Pope had heard of Michelangelo’s genius and recruited him for several projects, including the sculptures for the Pope’s tomb.  Although they initially developed a nice relationship, it didn’t last long.  The sculptor did not like being watched at work and kept his studio locked; he didn’t like the Pope’s questions about his rate of progress.  Michelangelo became very irritated about his patron’s bossy interference.

When the Pope pressed Michelangelo to undertake projects for which he did not feel qualified—a monumental bronze statue of Julius fourteen feet high for the façade of a church in Bologna…and the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—Michelangelo insisted it wasn’t “his kind of art.” The more he refused the Pope, the more the Pope insisted, and Michelangelo was ready to fly into a rage.  But seeing how persistent the Pope was, Michelangelo eventually relented and began work on the ceiling in 1508.

He immediately regretted that he had given in.  There was trouble with the scaffolding that an architect had constructed for him. There was trouble with his assistants from Florence whom he considered so incompetent that he removed everything that they did and painted all twelve thousand square feet of it himself.  He locked the chapel door provoking another quarrel with the Pope.  And then the labor was both physically and emotionally exhausting.  He painted standing up and looking upwards for such long periods that his neck became stiff and swollen.

And then there was the Pope…again.  He insisted on being let into the chapel to see what he was paying for.  The Pope kept asking impatiently when it would be finished, even climbing up onto the scaffold with his stick.  “How much longer?” he asked.  “When it satisfies me as an artist” was Michelangelo’s reply. The angry Julius retorted, “And we want you to satisfy us, and finish it soon.”  During one of their outbursts, the Pope even hit Michelangelo with his stick, after which he did apologize.

After nearly four years’ work, the scaffolding was removed.  The artist was still not satisfied and wanted to do much more. But the Pope would wait no longer. He rushed into the chapel to look at the astonishing achievement of more than 300 figures, many of them painted three or four times life-size.  On 31 October 1512, the Pope celebrated Mass inside the chapel.  Afterwards, all of Rome came to see what Michelangelo had done. They were speechless with astonishment.

 Summarized from excerpts from “Rome: The Biography of a City” by Christopher Hibbert.


This entry was posted in Abitudini, Architecture, Arte, English, Foto, Italia, Roma, Storia, Vaticano. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Michelangelo, the Pope, and the Sistine Chapel

  1. Margaret ODonnell says:

    Great article!!

    Margaret O’Donnell | HASC Sent from iPhone iOS

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