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Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel (sĭsˈtēn) [key] [for Sixtus IV], private chapel of the popes in Rome, one of the principal glories of the Vatican. Built (1473) under Pope Sixtus IV, it is famous for its decorations. By far the best-known achievements in the chapel are the work of Michelangelo. Across the ceiling he painted nine episodes from Genesis. There are representations of the stages of creation, Adam and Eve's temptation and fall, and Noah and the Deluge. Below these scenes are the statuesque figures of prophets and sibyls, with episodes from the Old Testament in the spandrels, all designed to prefigure the salvation of Christianity. The last great work Michelangelo executed in the chapel is The Last Judgment, on the altar wall.

Frescoes by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Signorelli cover the side walls of the chapel. They depict scenes from the lives of Moses and Jesus, symbolizing the reign of law and of grace, respectively. There are also varicolored marble mosaics on the chapel's floor. Another treasure of the chapel is its collection of illuminated music manuscripts in the archives of the choir.

In 1980 cleaning and restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes began with the test cleaning of small areas; full-scale work started the following year and was completed in 1994. The cleaning became controversial as it proceeded, as many experts accused the restorers of distorting or destroying the frescoes, but others defended the work, astonished at the colorist that the restoration revealed the artist to be. The cleaning of chapel frescoes by Botticelli, Perugino, and other painters was completed in 1999.

See C. Pietrangeli, The Sistine Chapel (1986); The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration (1995).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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