Course overview

The Sistine Chapel is indeed a jewel box of great painting. With works by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Michelangelo, some of the greatest works of the Italian Renaissance are to be found there. But this is more than just a collection of great works. It is also the pope’s private chapel and so these works were created not just for display but to relay a greater message to the world, But how many of the thousands of visitors really understand that message or what these works are about? In this study day we shall seek to decode the 'messages' contained in these great works and see what Sixtus IV and Julius II and their artists were really saying to us.

Course description

The course will begin with a brief history of the rebuilding of the Sistine Chapel in the 1470s by Pope Sixtus IV. Despite being desperately short of funds to restore both Rome and the Vatican after many years of neglect, he not only took on this expensive rebuild but, for the decoration of its walls, employed some of the most eminent artists of the day, including Botticelli, Perugino and the Ghirlandaio brothers. The pope himself helped to draw up the subject of these frescoes and so they are the first important works created specifically for the chapel. His nephew, Julius II, would continue this work, bringing in another Florentine, the sculptor Michelangelo, to paint the ceiling. It would have seemed that such a project was doomed to disaster but Michelangelo created there one of the iconic masterpieces of Western art which continues to draw thousands of visitors every year. Two further popes would also play their part in completing the programme of art: first, Leo X employed the great Raphael to create the drawings for a series of tapestries (and did you know that those drawings now hang in the V & A Museum in London?) and finally, Clement VII brought Michelangelo back to paint a moving and emotional Last Judgement on the altar wall. This Study Day is a feast of art to be enjoyed by all.

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