The Sistine Chapel, the palatial intrigues and the plans of the ‘Pope Guerrero’ for Michelangelo


Rome, year 1506. Michelangelo Buonarroti awaits in some remote place in present-day Vatican City the assignment that he will occupy for the next few years. On the table, one of the most mammoth projects in the history of art. Pope Julius II – known as the ‘Pope Guerrero’ – is about to offer the great Michelangelo to paint the vault of the Sistine Chapel. However, the painter, sculptor and architect do not have them all with him. “He doesn’t like to paint,” art historian Sara Rubayo. He considers sculpture to be a much nobler art and, indeed, tries to avoid the commission. He doesn’t want to do it. You don’t feel like it.

It is the beginning of the 16th century and Michelangelo already has enough artist status to try to choose what he wants and what he doesn’t want to do. “He is a superstar of art,” says Rubayo. However, the power of the highest ecclesiastical office will leave the artist no choice but to accept and launch into the challenge without question. It will be then when, perched on a 20-meter scaffold and together with two assistants, he will spend up to four years painting one of the most superb works of art known. Of course, before 1508, before Buonarroti went to work on the vault, there was no lack of an intricate web of controversy, envy and palace intrigues.

It all started a few years before, when Julius II proposed a different commission to Michelangelo, in this case one that did provoke a sovereign enthusiasm for the artist. “Of course,” Rubayo emphasizes, “the Pope had thought of him to take charge of the creation of his own mausoleum.” In that case, Buonarroti immediately accepted, presented a project to the pontiff and, naturally, the latter was delighted. “So much so that he sent the sculptor to Carrara to extract all the necessary marble from the mines,” he says. So excessive was the artistic ambition that the project exuded, that it soon aroused the envy of two other great artists of the period: Donato d’Angelo Bramante and, above all, Rafael de Urbino, also known as Rafael Sanzio.

It seems that it was the two of them who convinced the ‘Pope Guerrero’ that it was inappropriate to embark on a pharaonic work like that of the mausoleum, given, first, the bad luck that could assail the pontiff for building a mausoleum prior to his death and Second, that he was already investing enough talents and efforts in another great work, also large, such as Saint Peter’s Basilica, with which he intended to demonstrate the power of the church. It is further proof of the legacy that Julius II wanted to leave, who was not only one of the popes most concerned with art, but also, and first of all, with the consolidation of the autonomy of the church.

“Michelangelo did not like at all that Julius II backed off the mausoleum project and, upset and angry, he left Rome for Florence,” continues the art historian. In those days, such a slight was a serious offense to the Pope, but the great artistic consideration that Buonarroti already held protected him … up to a point, taking into account that no one could, in reality, offend the pontiff in that way. For the moment, Bramante and Rafael Sanzio had had their way. “And Miguel Ángel suspected that the change of opinion of the Pope had something to do with both of them,” Rubayo said. But very soon events would take a new turn and would return Michelangelo to Rome. An alleged interference by Bramante and Rafael took the artist away from Rome and, without knowing it, another intervention by the two would return him to the eternal city. A 40.93 meter long and 13.41 wide vault awaited him.

A means to get to the mausoleum

We are back in 1506. As we know, Michelangelo receives the commission for the vault of the Sistine Chapel, something that he does not fancy at all. What he wants is to sculpt, not paint. Rubayo points out that, according to a certain current of historians, it seems that it was Bramante himself who suggested to Julius II that he offer the project of the Sistine to Michelangelo with the assurance that he was going to reject it so that, immediately afterwards, “the commission fell into the hands of his friend Rafael, who had already started the murals of the room of the Signatura“and, although at first his intentions seemed to come to fruition, his plan was definitively twisted when the author of La Pietá he thought twice.

“It is possible”, Rubayo slides in the light of what some experts have discovered, “that Julius II promised to continue with the mausoleum if he took charge of the Sistine vault”, until now all of it painted blue and studded with stars, in the purest early Christian style. No sooner said than done. In 1508, Michelangelo was already on the scaffolding and had started a work that would become one of the greatest jewels in the entire history of art.

“Although he did not like to paint, he is not just a top five of history in sculpture, but also of painting “, he reflects. In the central scenes of the Sistine, which Michelangelo painted standing up and not lying down, as was often claimed, the artist explained the nine stories of Genesis and, Around, he painted other Old Testament sets, the five prophets, the five sibyls and “a series of nudes and other figures that turn the vault into an architectural trompe l’oeil.” When he finished, in 1512, he even accused the effort of the titanic work physically.

To the back problems from painting standing up with his arms always raised, were added those of vision, a product of working many times in the dark – only with candlelight – and with paint dripping into his eyes. Years after completing the great fresco, in 1536, Michelangelo received a second commission: the front wall of the Chapel, where he would have to paint the Last Judgment. If you didn’t like painting, there were two cups. I would also accept, of course. And it may be that thanks to this – or perhaps it had nothing to do with it – he was allowed to fulfill one of the greatest ambitions of his career, the mausoleum of Julius II, which, although with dimensions much smaller than those of Initially projected, it ended a few years later, in 1545. Today, it can be visited in the San Pietro in Vincoli basilica, also in Rome.


Source: ElDiario.es – ElDiario.es by www.eldiario.es.

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