Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling. An Artistic Vision Without Precedent. (Part Four).

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Raphael's Isaiah was painted in imitation of Michelangelo's Prophets.
Artist: Raphael (1483–1520).
Date: 1511.
Current location: Sant'Agostino, Rome, Italy.
Source/Photographer: Web Gallery of Art:
(Wikimedia Commons)

The twelve Prophetic figures are:

Jonah (IONAS) – above the Altar;
Jeremiah (HIEREMIAS);
Persian Sibyl (PERSICHA);
Ezekiel (EZECHIEL);
Erythraean Sibyl. (ERITHRAEA);
Joel (IOEL);
Zechariah (ZACHERIAS) – above the Main Door of the Chapel;
Delphic Sibyl. (DELPHICA);
Isaiah (ESAIAS);
Cumaean Sibyl. (CVMAEA);
Daniel (DANIEL);
Libyan Sibyl (LIBICA).

The seven Prophets of Israel, chosen for depiction on the Ceiling, include the four, so-called, Major Prophets: Isaiah; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel. Of the remaining twelve possibilities among the Minor Prophets, the three represented are Joel, Zechariah and Jonah. Although the Prophets Joel and Zechariah are considered "Minor", because of the comparatively small number of pages that their Prophecy occupies in the Bible, each one produced Prophesies of profound significance.

They are often quoted:

Joel for his: "Your sons and your daughters shall Prophesy, your elderly shall dream dreams and your youth shall see visions". These words are significant for Michelangelo's decorative scheme, where women take their place among men, and the youthful Daniel sits across from the brooding Jeremiah with his long white beard.

English: Coat-of-Arms of the Popes of the family Della Rovere:
Pope Sixtus IV and Pope Julius II.
Español: Escudo de los papas de la familia Della Rovere:
Sixto IV y Julio II.
Date: 18 March 2014.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Zechariah prophesied: "Behold ! Your King comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey". His place in the Chapel is directly above the door through which the Pope is carried in Procession on Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus fulfilled the Prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and being proclaimed King.

Jonah's main Prophecy concerned the downfall of the City of Nineveh. While this alone does not seem to warrant him a place above the High Altar, it is the person of Jonah, himself, that is of symbolic and Prophetic significance, a significance which was commonly perceived and had been represented in countless works of art, including Manuscripts and Stained-Glass Windows.

Jonah, through his reluctance to obey God, was swallowed by a "mighty fish". He spent three days in its belly and was eventually spewed up on dry land, where he went about God's business. Jonah was thus seen as presaging Jesus, Who, having died by Crucifixion, spent part of three days in a tomb and was Raised on The Third Day. So, on The Ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, Jonah, with the "great fish" beside him and his eyes turned towards God the Creator, represents a "portent" of the Resurrection of Christ.

A reconstruction of the appearance of the Chapel in the 1480s, prior to the painting of the Ceiling.
An engraving, which attempts to reconstruct the probable appearance of the Interior of The Sistine Chapel before the internal reorganisation, the moving of the Screen; and the painting of the Ceiling and The Last Judgement by Michelangelo.
Artist: Unknown.
Date: 19th-Century.
Current location: Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy.
Source/Photographer: Web Gallery of Art.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In Vasari's description of the Prophets and Sibyls, he is particularly high in his praise of the portrayal of Isaiah: "Anyone who studies this figure, copied so faithfully from nature, the true mother of the art of painting, will find a beautifully composed work, capable of teaching in full measure all the precepts to be followed by a good painter.”

The Sibyls were prophetic women who were resident at shrines or temples throughout the Classical World. The five depicted here are each said to have Prophesied the Birth of Christ. The Cumaean Sibyl, for example, is quoted by Virgil in his Fourth Eclogue as declaring that "a new progeny of Heaven" would bring about a return of the "Golden Age". This was interpreted as referring to Jesus.

In Christian Doctrine, Christ came not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. It was understood that, prior to the Birth of Christ, God prepared the world for his coming. To this purpose, God used Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem (where it had been Prophesied that His Birth would take place), except for the fact that the pagan Roman Emperor Augustus decreed that there should be a Census. Likewise, when Jesus was Born, the announcement of His Birth was made to rich and to poor, to mighty and to humble, to Jew and to Gentile. The Three Wise Men (the "Magi" of the Bible), who sought out The Infant King with precious gifts, were pagan foreigners.

English: Michelangelo's rendering of The Erythraean Sibyl on The Sistine Chapel's Ceiling.
Deutsch: Deckenfresko zur Schöpfungsgeschichte in der Sixtinischen Kapelle,
Szene in Lünette: Die Erythräische Sibylle.
Artist: Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564).
Date: 1508-1512.
Source/Photographer: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei.
DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In The Church of Rome, where there was an increasing interest in the remains of the City's pagan past, where scholars turned from reading Mediaeval Church Latin to Classical Latin, and the philosophies of the Classical World were studied along with the Writings of Saint Augustine, the presence, in The Sistine Chapel, of five pagan Prophets is not surprising.

It is not known why Michelangelo selected the five particular Sibyls that were depicted, given that, as with the Minor Prophets, there were ten or twelve possibilities. It is suggested by John O'Malley that the choice was made for a wide geographic coverage, with the Sibyls coming from Africa, Asia, Greece and Ionia.

Vasari says of the Erythraean Sibyl: "Many aspects of this figure are of exceptional loveliness; the expression of her face, her head-dress and the arrangement of her draperies; and her arms, which are bared, are as beautiful as the rest."

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling fresco,
by Michelangelo, depicting The Cumaean Sibyl, on the right.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564).
Date: 1508-1512.
Current location: Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy.
Source/Photographer: Web Gallery of Art.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In each corner of The Chapel is a triangular Pendentive, filling the space between the walls and the Arch of the Vault, and forming the Spandrel above the windows nearest the corners. On these curving shapes, Michelangelo has painted four scenes from Biblical stories that are associated with the Salvation of Israel by four great male and female heroes of the Jews: Moses; Esther; David; and Judith:

The Brazen Serpent;
The Punishment of Haman;
David and Goliath;
Judith and Holofernes.

The first two stories were both seen, in Mediaeval Theology and Renaissance Theology, as pre-figuring The Crucifixion of Jesus. In the story of The Brazen Serpent, the people of Israel become dissatisfied and grumble at God. As punishment, they receive a plague of poisonous snakes. God offers the people relief by instructing Moses to make a snake of brass, set up on a pole, the sight of which gives miraculous healing. Michelangelo chooses a crowded composition, depicting a dramatic mass of suffering men, women and writhing snakes, separated from redeemed worshippers, by the snake, before an Epiphanic light.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...