On this day in 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, one of Italian artist Michelangelo’s finest works, is revealed to the public for the first time.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, the greatest of the Italian Renaissance artists, was born in the small village of Caprese in 1475. The son of a government administrator, he grew up in Florence, a center of the early Renaissance movement, and became an artist’s apprentice at age 13.
Demonstrating obvious talent, he was taken under the wing of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of the Florentine republic and a great patron of the arts. After demonstrating his mastery of sculpture in such works as the Pieta (1498) and David (1504), he was called to Rome in 1508 to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—the chief consecrated space in the Vatican.
And for inside baseball, Michelangelo was intimidated by the scale of the commission, and made it known from the outset of Julius II’s approach that he would prefer to decline. He felt he was more of a sculptor than a painter, and was suspicious that such a large-scale project was being offered to him by enemies as a set-up for an inevitable fall. For Michelangelo, the project was a distraction from the major marble sculpture that had preoccupied him for the previous few years. Regardless, the completed frescoes were and are magnificent, well nigh divine.
Michelangelo returned to create The Last Judgement from 1535 to 1541, between two important historic events, the Sack of Rome by mercenary forces of the Holy Roman Empire in 1527 and the Council of Trent which commenced in 1545. The work was designed on a grand scale, and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. Within this work, responsive to prudish complaints on the nudes contained within, he painted his own portrait, on the flayed skin held by St Bartholomew.
And it his here, the lesson endeth.