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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Michelangelo’s masterpiece painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling has been an inspiration to people for centuries. The story of his work is fairly well documented but here are some details you may not know.
His first love was sculpting, not painting. He was an up and coming sculptor well regarded in Florence and Rome. Pope Julius II became aware of him and offered the young man a commission to paint the chapel ceiling.
Michelangelo refused the original commission to paint the 12 Apostles. He protested that he was a sculptor, not a painter. There is a story still debated by scholars that the master painter Raphael, and the architect Bramante, conspired against him. They were not interest in the commission for themselves but wanted Michelangelo to either fail (remember he was not primarily a painter) and be disgraced, or be tied down for years with the project which would have removed him from competition for other lucrative commissions.
Pope Julius insisted and Michelangelo accepted, if he could alter the subject matter to one of his own choosing. He convinced the Pope to let him expand the themes to include the Creation (3 scenes), the Great Flood (3 scenes), Adam and Eve (3 scenes), the Prophets (12 scenes), and the genealogy of Christ (14 scenes). In total, the ceiling would have 300 figures grouped into 47 different scenes.
Michelangelo was 33 years old when painting commenced. He was known as a solitary, melancholy, and ill-mannered man. He worked completely alone, even grinding his own colors. He routinely disregarded food and drink, eating only out of necessity; and he frequently slept in his clothes. He actually painted primarily while standing up, not lying on his back as the popular legend says.
The Sistine Chapel was painted over the course of four years (1508 - 1512), but the work was interrupted frequently by the Pope’s many other small projects for Michelangelo. And when the Pope was out of town, Michelangelo would leave Rome for Florence.
When the ceiling was only half completed, the Pope insisted it be shown to the public. This frustrated Michelangelo greatly. At that time, Raphael requested that the Pope allow him to paint the second half instead of the troublesome Michelangelo. That request was denied.
Pope Julius was an impatient man. Michelangelo complained that the work could not be finished as he had planned because of his constant pressure to complete it. The painter wrapped things up and had the scaffolding partially removed. The Pope complained that there was more yet to be done including touching up the garments of the holy characters with gold. Not wanting to rebuild the scaffolding and tired of the interference, Michelangelo protested that the painting lacked nothing of importance. The Pope responded that the figures “looked poor.” Michelangelo answered, “Those who are depicted here were poor.” No retouching was done.
In the end, the Pope was completely satisfied as was the Roman citizenry who crowded into the Sistine Chapel to view the masterpiece. Michelangelo received payment of 3,000 ducats. He had paid for the colors himself. He destroyed almost all of his design sketches after the work was done.
One final note. Because he had spent so much time painting while staring upward, he had trouble focusing looking down. For some time, Michelangelo would have to hold a document or a letter above his head and read it looking up. This problem eventually faded.

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