Sistine Chapel (featured in “We Have A Pope”) by Georanni Gingoyon

Georanni May B. Gingoyon


Renaissance is known for the period when men started spending most of their time on acquiring new knowledge and studying the ancients—the time when men shifted their focus from God to man. But despite all these, many of the Catholic world’s most sacred buildings were built during this period, and one of them is the Sistine Chapel. This chapel which I think is the most famous of all chapels, holds the most awaited election in the Catholic church—the election for the next pope. It’s no surprise that this election would be the talk of the town whenever this occurs because it is not actually known when the next election will be. History tells us that it can take 13 days to 31 years before the next one. It all depends on the recent pope–the time he resigns or dies. The tradition in this papal election is that the cardinals lock themselves up inside the Sistine chapel and do not go out until a pope has been successfully elected.

There’s this recent movie titled Habemus Papam or We Have A Pope. Its title is the Latin phrase used during the announcement of a new pope. So it’s clear that I was not babbling about off-topic things in the first paragraph. It’s related to this movie which was filmed at, guess what—Sistine Chapel. Well it’s not exactly filmed inside the real chapel, they just made an (amazing) replica of it in Cinecitta Studios in Rome. The movie centers on this cardinal who was surprisingly elected pope. Before facing the crowd, he suddenly freaks out up to the point that a psychoanalyst was hired by the cardinals to help calm the newly-elected pope. It’s a comedy and the plot’s pretty much it.

Poster of We Have A Pope

Anyway–everyone who went to school must be at least familiar with Michelangelo right? Well then, everyone who has knowledge about him must at least know that this sculptor was the one who painted the world’s most famous ceiling. And what structure is that ceiling from? It’s from the Sistine Chapel! And that’s the only thing some people normally know about the Sistine Chapel, that one and only ceiling. Well the Sistine Chapel is not just all about that! It’s actually visited by many tourists because of its beautiful interior architecture with paintings and frescoes by great Renaissance painters.

The Sistine Chapel is actually named after Pope Sixtus IV who commissioned its construction in 1475. (Honestly, back then, I thought it was named after a female saint or something). The Chapel is a high rectangular brick building with an exterior which is unadorned by architectural or decorative details which is common to Renaissance churches in Italy. Interestingly, this chapel has the same dimensions with the Temple of Solomon in the Old Testament.


The exterior of the Sistine Chapel

Contrast to its plain and simple exterior, the Sistine Chapel is mostly praised by its interior. The chapel is symmetrical, and the clear-cut proportion of the one room is a feature of most Renaissance Architecture. The ceiling appears as a flattened barrel vault which has been cut transversely, creating a sequence of pendentives on the ceiling. Three tiers make up each wall, the first tier with fresco paintings, and the second tier, on either side tell a similar story, the life of Moses and the life of Christ. These frescoes were made by Boticelli and Signorelli. However, the artistic highlight of the Sistine Chapel is the frescoes painted on the ceiling of the Chapel by Michelangelo who worked on it for four years, starting from 1508. The ceiling is a series of nine different paintings each depicting a different scene from the Old Testament beginning with the separation of night from day and the creation of Adam, up until the great flood at the time of Noah. On the large pendentives that support the vault are painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. Another masterpiece of Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, is also inside the walls of the Sistine Chapel.


A scene from the movie We Have A Pope; Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement is in the background

At this point, I can say that the Church, even with all its controversies and attacks from others, played a very large part in the arts we know and study today. Western art was mostly shaped by them! And when I get the chance, the first places I would visit outside the Philippines will be Rome and its surrounding countries. Besides the idea that every Catholic should at least try to visit the Catholic capital of the World, (like every Muslim must go at least once in their lifetime to Mecca or the scattered Chinese to China) I believe that these places contain many of man’s greatest works. Through art made by man, we can see the development of man himself.




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