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Without question the most recognized work of the Renaissance is Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Named for Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere (1471-1484), the chapel is simple in shape. Its measurements repeat those given in the Bible for the temple of Solomon. But, despite the Sistine Chapel's structural simplicity, its ceiling is one of the pinnacle achievements in art history. After more than four years, Michelangelo completed his masterpiece ceiling in October of 1512. On it he portrayed the nine stories from the Book of Genesis, including its most famous image, God's Creation of Adam. The achievement of this work lies not only in the detail and beauty of the artistry, but also in the comprehensiveness of the stories told in the picture.
The Italian Renaissance was called the beginning of the modern age. The most obvious changes during Renaissance times are seen in the Chapels paintings and sculptures. Artists began to experiment for the first time with oil-based paints. They mixed powdered pigments with linseed oil. The paints dried slowly, and remained workable for a few months. Stonemasons of the Middle Ages began to be replaced by Artists.
They used materials like bronze to make the scenes in their bas-reliefs more lifelike. Perspective and light were introduced into art. A team of computer experts recently proved that background architectural details were perfectly proportioned and positioned in relation to the figures in the foreground of some Renaissance paintings. Many Renaissance works of art showed subjects taken from the Bible. Non-religious subjects from Greek and Roman Mythology were also popular. The painters and artists that lived during the Renaissance changed the way the world looked at art for all time. This was the most frustrating project of his life. Michelangelo spent a year on the gigantic bronze curvatures.
Shortly after awarding the contract for the tomb, Julius commissioned the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which Michelangelo worked on from 1508 to 1512. The ceiling is divided into three zones, the highest showing scenes from Genesis. Below are prophets and sibyls. In the lunettes and spandrels are figures identified as ancestors of Jesus or the Virgin, which seem to suggest a vision of primordial humanity. After the death of Julius II, his heirs again contracted for the execution of his monument and 30 years of litigation ensued. Michelangelo had to abandon his plan for a vast mausoleum for Julius II in St. Peter's.
From 1520 to 1534 Michelangelo worked on the Medici Chapel (San Lorenzo, Florence) and designed the elegant, mannerist Laurentian Library of this church. A forceful contrast between contemplation and action is seen in his statues of Giuliano and Lorenzo de' Medici, and his allegorical figures of Dawn, Evening, Night, and Day. In 1529 he assisted as engineer in the defense of Florence. After working on the Last Judgment of the Sistine Chapel and the Conversion of Paul and Martyrdom of Peter in the Pauline Chapel (Vatican), he devoted himself to architecture as chief architect of St. Peters Church. In his last years Michelangelo's work shows a more spiritualized and abstract form, e.g., two unfinished Piet groups and the Rondanini Piet (Castello Sforzesco, Milan).
He thought of himself primarily as a sculptor, and a feeling for the expressive potentialities of sculptural form manifests itself in all his work. Many of his designs have survived only through his drawings, which used vigorous cross-hatching. Great collections of his drawings are in the Louvre and Uffizi The best known paintings from Michelangelos creations are on the ceilings of the chapel. Below these are his figures of the prophets and sibyls, all prefiguring the salvation of Christianity. The chapel also has a notable collection of illuminated music manuscripts. Cleaning and restoration of the frescoes began in 1980 and was completed in 1994.
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