September 6 … The topic for today is…Impressions of the Sistine Chapel

This week we saw some very famous Italian artwork and I enjoyed all of it thoroughly. The artwork that struck me the most, however, were the frescos in the Sistine chapel by Michelangelo. The amazing wall paintings were beautiful to me not just because of their artistic skillfulness, but also the stories they tell about the passionate artist who created them. The following paragraphs express my immediate feelings about this breathtaking masterpiece by a very successful artist. My heart thumped with excitement as we neared the large doorway. This was the moment I had been waiting for all day. All day I had looked forward to the famous Sistine Chapel containing the amazing wall frescos by Michelangelo. I tried to imagine what it would look like by organizing all of the pictures I had seen of the individual frescos into one piece. I knew what some of them looked like…now the surprise was seeing all of the frescos together in one room.

My heart raced as we entered the door. When we entered I turned around and saw The Last Judgment in front of me. It was enormous! I looked up at the ceiling and realized it was huge as well. On the side walls I recognized the scenes of major events in the lives of Moses and Christ. All around me was color, complexity and overwhelming energy…beautiful paintings with life. I couldn't blink. I took a step back and noticed the unusual and ingenious composition of the frescos. Michelangelo created all of these energetic figures and scenes leading up, in an equal formation, to the muscular body of Christ. He shows this source of energy by painting a wreath of golden light around Christ's body. This clearly portrays Michelangelo's strong belief in the power of Christ. He forces your eyes to focus on his body. Surrounding Christ's body is another wreath; this time a wreath of people. On the right side of the fresco are the sinners and on the left the non-sinners. The painting clearly depicts which side is which by the positions of the figures. The people on the left are moving away from Christ as he powerfully holds his right arm in the direction of the sinners to strike them down. The people on the left side are moving tentatively toward Christ as he motions them forward to be blessed. This wreath of people and the angels above create a breathtaking and unforgettable movement in the painting. Just below Christ on the right hand side is a man holding a coat of human skin in his hand, and offering Christ a knife. You can see that Christ is looking at this man. Our tour guide later told us that the skin that the man was holding showed the skin and face of Michelangelo. This sends many messages to us about what Michelangelo thought about himself as a Christian. We heard many stories about this mysterious element of the fresco.

We then walked further back to look at the magnificent ceiling fresco. I had learned that the ceiling told the story of Genesis beginning with God separating light and dark and ending with the story of Noah and the arc. The first thing that caught my eye was the fresco scene of the creation of Adam. The well-known fresco piece shows God and Adam (the first human) joining hands as human life on earth begins. God's power is shown by his clothes, legs and beard being blown back by a powerful wind and his arm completely extended to give power and life to Adam. Angels are also shown holding God's lower body with all of their might. The figure representing Adam is gracefully reaching his arm out to reach God's and gain strength. God's finger and Adam's flexed hand are only a centimeter away from meeting which gives the fresco a new aspect of movement and beauty. Michelangelo painted God giving life to humans in such a way that it also gave life to the fresco and entire room. This fresco gave power to the ceiling fresco in the same way that the highlighted figure of Christ gave power to The Last Judgment.

We continued to look at the frescos in the room and endured all of their beauty. No other frescos, however, matched the power of The Last Judgment and the fresco depicting the creation of Adam. I knew Michelangelo purposively did this to express his own religious beliefs. I admire him for expressing his own beliefs and feelings into something that was really just a job. These were some of the most powerful and lively paintings I had ever seen and the entire composition of the frescos inspired me. This was the highlight of my stay in the Vatican and I am sure it will be one of the highlights of all the art I see in Europe and in the entire world.