Notes on “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling”

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

P2 – Pieta’ – 1496, “a few years later”, “surpassing not only the sculptures of all of M’s contemporaries but even those of the ancient Greeks and Romans themselves–the standards by which art was judged.”

P3 – Julius’ plan for his monument: “…a memorial that was to be the largest since the mausoleums built for Roman emperors such as Hadrian and Augustus”, 34 x 50 ft, 40 figures.

P7 – Bramante = Ravenous

P11 – The (false) Conspiracy: “Bramante had persuaded the pope to abandon the project by warning him that it was bad luck to have one’s tomb carved during one’s lifetime, and had then proposed an altogether different commission…”

P21 – The “real story”: Bramante told the pope: “I believe he does not have enough courage and spirit for it, because he has not done too many figures and, above all, the figures are high and in foreshortening, and this is another thing from painting at ground level.”  Note: Bramante trained under Piero della Francesca.

P22 – Ghirlandaio = “Garland Seller”.  Magnum opus: Lives of the Virgin and of St. John the Baptist in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, 1486 – 1490.  Relationship with Michelangelo was far from amicable.

P23 – Direct competition between Leonardo and Michelangelo for frescos in the Palazzo della Signoria.  Leonardo had little regard for sculptuer: “This is a most mechanical exercise accompanied many times with a great deal of sweat…” and, paraphrasing, sculptors covered in marble dust looked like bakers.

P25 – As soon as Michelangelo finished his cartoon for the Battle of Cascina in 1505 he was called to Rome to begin work on the tomb.  (Leonardo had done the Battle of Anghiari.)

P26 – Mantegna ceiling freso and an example of what I would like to do in the entrance way at home.

P27 – Bramante knew that Michelangelo did not know well the technique of di sotto in su’ – foreshortening so that figures appear to be standing above you; “contrary to Michelangelo’s alleged suspicions, he seems to have been determined to avert a disaster from unfolding on the vault of one of the most important chapels in Christendom.”


  • Julius II fathered 3 daughters.
  • Indulgences reduced time friends and relatives spent in purgatory; this time usually was calculated at 9,000 years.
  • Syphilis – very fond of priests – “especially very rich priests.”
  • “… by creating and then selling ecclesiastical offices, a practice known as simony (and a sin whose practitioners Dante had placed in the eighth circle of Hell, where they were buried upside down and had their feet roasted by flames).”

P43 – Bronze statue of Julius II for Bologna: 14 feet tall weighing more than 10,000 pounds, it was one of the largest bronzes cast since antiquity.  Almost the same height as the statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Campidoglio… the statue against which all others were measured.

Here is that idea of “canons”… (literaly and figuratively, in light of what Alfonso d’este would later do to Michelangelo’s sculpture… from Julius to “La Giulia”)… what sets the gold standard?

P45 – Cardinal Alidosi wrote contract for the ceiling.  (He would later be murdered.)  Contract now lost (so they say).  Contract dated: May 10, 1508.  Michelangelo was to be paid 3,000 ducats.  3,000 ducats is 30 times the amount a qualified artisan or goldsmith could expect to earn in a single year.

P47 – Cimabue = “Ox-Head” or better Ox-Top.

P48 to 49 – Science behind fresco.  Very well written.  Consult if needed in future.

P50 – Titian: “… smeared with his fingertips so the picture looked impulsive.”  Sargent = the look of the impulsive!

P52 – Scaffolding came first… for use when they tore down the old fresco.

P53 – Sketch of scaffolding.  Design for this relates to his work/proposal for the bridge across Bosporus… would have been the largest bridge in Europe?

P54 – Story of Michelangelo’s scaffold.  Rope purchased to build Bramante’s scaffold given to carpenter, who then sold it and used as dowries for his two daughters… fairy-tale ending to the Bramante/Michelangelo scaffold duel.

P55 – Arriccio! (Salute!) This is the base of a fresco needed before doing the intonico.  Must be totally dry.

P56 – Summer of 1508, Rosselli worked to remove the previous fresco and apply the arriccio.

P57 – Painters, Sculptors = Craftsmen.

P58 – Influence of ceiling design: Hadrian’s Villa.  Similar schemes, Santa Maria del Popolo.  Pinturicchio, vault of the choir by Bramante.  Find this.

P59 – Sketch of design from Hadrian’s Villa

P60 – Sketch of initial design my Michelangelo for ceiling.

P61 – Platina, first keeper of the Vatican Library.

P62 – Create a cut-out to show ceiling transformation… connections between tomb design and ceiling design.  12 apostles become sibyls and prophets.  Need to find the work of Jacopo della Quercia… must have been a great influence on Michelangelo.  Follow the money = follow the history.  Quercia’s Great Door (Porta Magna) in Bologna shows the following scenes: The Drunkeness of Noah, The Sacrifice, the Creation of Eve and the Creation of Adam.  Quercia’s images were “fresh in his mind.”

P70 – Battle of Cascina – Holkham Hall – Norfolk.  There is a painting there that is a copy of Michelangelo’s drawing.

P76 – Red Madder Pigment – made from the fermented root of the madder plant.

P81 – Silver point, “Primo Pensieri”, first thoughts, first sketches.

P86 – Michelangelo reused poses from “centaurs” and “cascina” for the Flood!

P90 – Savonarola, Bonfire of the Vanities.

P92 – Switch from New Testament, rejoicing and celebration, to Old Testament, blood and violence.

P99 – Scarlet Wedding.

P106- Azurite turns green, hence green skies.

P109- Michelangelo’s hygiene/social life.

P110- “My Melancholy”

P111- Obstreperous = noisy and difficult to control.

P113 – Rapheal meets Bazzi, i.e., Sodoma

P114 – Julius replaced the “Medicine” category with “Poetry”; use this room as an example of how the ceiling might have been.


  • Raphael’s “Temptation” came first!
  • Contrapposto = placed opposite; asymmetrical pose!
  • Eve was inspired by Leonardo’s “Leda and the Swan.”… it was Leonardo that “loomed like a colossus” over Raphael  more than any other… (until Michelangelo’s ceiling literally did just that!)
  • Leda = Pose for Anna?
  • Mona Lisa painted in 1504 (Portrait of Anna!)
  • Leda and the Swan painting, also 1504: transported to France soon after completion, then burned 150 years later, supposedly on the orders of Madame de Maintenon, the second wife of Louis XIV.

P118- Flaying of Marsyas.  Painting by Sodoma.

Story of Marsyas: took up the flute after finding the one invented by Athena who had hoped to imitate the keening wail of the Gorgons as they mourned the dead Medusa.  The flute had captured the sad sound, but the vain goddess threw it away after catching sight of her unflattering reflecion in the water as she puffed a melody.  Marsyas soon became so confident and expert on her flute that he challenged (why??) Apollo, on the lyre, to a duel.  This was a rash act given that Apollo once murdered his own grandson, Eurytus, for daring to challenge him to an archery contest. Apollo agreed to the competition, adding the grisly clause that the winner should be allowed to do whatever he pleased to the loser.

The outcome was all too predictable.  With the Muses serving as judges, both Apollo and Marsyas played so beautifully that no winner could be declared untile Apollo craftily turned his lyre upside down and contineud to play, an act the silenus was unable to duplicate on his flute.  The victorious Apollo then took his due, hanging Marsyas from a pine tree and viciously flaying him alive.  As the woodland creatures wept at his cruel death, their tears became the River Marsyas, a tributary of the Meander, down which bobbed the flute until it was plucked from the water by a shepherd boy.  The shepherd had the good sense to dedicate the instrument to Apollo, who was also the god of flocks and herds.  Marsyas’s skin, meanwhile, became a museum piece, having supposedly been exhibited in ancient times at Celaenae, in present-day Turkey.

P120- Dismissal of Sodoma = others… the rivalry between Rapheal and Michelangelo was set!

P122- First Frescos

P124- Vermillion is made from Cinnabar.  Smalt is glass tinted with cobalt.  Smalt = smelt = furnace

P126- Cennino Cennini – Handbook fro painters, 1390’s!  Il libro dell’Arte.  Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Terra Verde, Ultramarine– beyond the sea, that is, from Afghanistan.

P129- Morellone – Caput Mortuum (dead head).  First lunette painted in three days.

P132- Ancestors = 91 Figures.  Titian copied some of the figures from the Iosias Iechonias Salathiel lunette for his own The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

P142- Raphael’s Disputa’ took six months to paint.  Savonarola went against Alexander VI… and sealed his fate.

P146- Basilica, ceiling, cortile, rooms all happening at the same time.

P151- Look for Jacopo della Quercia’s version of “The Drunkenness of Noah”.  Good adjectives: Lively poses, fluent gestures.  Good word: verisimilitude.

P152- I didn’t realize Alberti was a prude.  In his De Pictura: “The obscene parts of the body and all those that are note pleasing to look at should be covered with clothing or leaves or the hand.”  Fascinating: associating nudity with pain and suffering.  For Greeks/Romans, Nude = Spiritual body.  For Christians, Nude = Nailed Sinners.

P153- Excellent method for setting up the folds in robes: dip the fabric in wet plaster, let it dry, then it stays in place.  Michelangelo learned this method in Ghirlandaio’s studio.

P154- M using males for models.  “Unlike Raphael, who did not scruple to use women, Michelangelo’s models were always male, no matter the sex of the character portrayed.”

P157- Michelangelo and anatomy.

P158- Ghirlandaio > Arrotino “Knife Grinder” > Baptism

P159- It was Michelangelo himself who coined the phrase “ignudi”.  Several were inspired by the slaves he had been working on for Julius II’s tomb.

P160- Laocoon: carved by a team of three sculptors from Rhodes around 25 b.c.e.  “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.  Mistake here referencing emperor Titus in 69 c.e.  Wasn’t emperor until 79, right?

P161- Titian drew a monkey Laocoon.  Laocoon’s appeal to Michelangelo is clear… in light of his involvement with the Battle of the Centaurs.  Ross suggests the two that respond to the laocoon are the two that grapple with “the fat garlands of Rovere oak leaves and acorns.”

P162- “Noah’s daughter-in-law is a direct copy of the figure of Althea on a Roman sarcophagus now in the Villa Torlonia in Rome.”  By the Autumn of 1509 Michelangelo and his team had painted their way across 1/3 of the chapel.

P167- Reading letters above his head.

P168- Macchiavelli notes: “Nothing important ever happens in a city or in a region that has not been foretold either by diviners or by revelations or by prodigies or by celestial signs.”  Why do we humans have such a fascination with “prophecy”?  Also, how didi Michelangelo reconcile his favor for both Medici and Savonarola?

P169- Stilicho, leader of the Vandals, burned the Sibyl books.

P170- “Sibyls were alluring to scholars who aimed to reconcile pagan mythology with orthodox Christian teachings.”  The first Sibyl that Michelangelo painted was the Delphica… the one associated with Oedipus Rex.  “One of her notoriously slippery prophecies had been addressed to Croesus, the king of Lydia, who was told that, by attacking the Persians, he would bring down a mighty emprie; only after his dramatic defeat did Croesus realize that the empire in question was his own.”

P171- Delphic Sibyl = 12 giornate = face of the Pieta’!

P172- Sibyls depicted are the first of 5 from a list of 10 in the Divine Institutions of Lactantius.

P173- The Cumaean sibyl… rude gesture, making a “fig”, described by Dante… equivalent of giving someone the finger.

P174- M renowned for his sarcastic wit.

P178- Alfonso d’Este, husband of Lucrezia Borgia.  Fearsome weapon: “the Lord’s Devil”.

P180- 1509 Disputa’.  1510 – School of Athens.

P181- Plato > Leonardo > Pythagoras > Adoration of the Magi.  “Plato had condemned the arts and banished painters from his ideal city.”  Hence, the irony in giving him the portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.  Ah!  and Raphael used Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi as inspiration for the figures crowding around Pythagoras on the left.  Get image of this to compare!  Also, if Aristotle is not a reference to Michelangelo… then who is it???

P182- Michelangelo vs. Raphael:  “Raphael was leaving the Vatican in the company of his vast entourage when he encountered Michelangelo–who, typically, was alone–in the middle of the Piazza San Pietro.  “You with your band, like a bravo,” sneered Michelangelo.  “And you alone, like the hangman,” retorted Raphael.”

P184- School of Athens took 2 months work.  On the neck of the tunic worn by Euclid: RVSM – “Raphael Vrbinus Sua Mano”

P187- “The four young pupils surrounding Euclid, for example, were all given different poses and expressions to show their varying emotions: wonder, concentration, curiosity, comprehension.”  Poses of expressions of emotion.  I like this idea.  George Cooke and T.L. Busby – The Cartoons of Raphael d’Urbino… includes an Index of Passions.

P188- Rome Carnival, 1510 – lifting of the excommunication of the Venetian republic… attractions of carnival included, “racing of the Jews” and races between hunchbacks and cripples.  Che vergogna.

P189- The Swiss Guards

P191- Pasquino, 25th of April, feast of St. Mark.

P192- Death of Lionardo – M’s older brother, Temptation & Expulsion – 13 giornate.

P193- Adam in Temptation is 10 ft. tall.  Shows Adam aggressively feeding himself… Raphael’s temptation was first!

P194- Temptation = Carnal desires, not reproduced for 3 centuries after engraving.

P195- The “Platonic Love” of Michelangelo.  “Michelangelo’s anxieties about sex…”

P197- “On balance, it seems highly likely that he (Michelangelo) practiced the abstinence that he preached to Condivi.”

P198- In 1510, Rome was a city of fewer than 50,000 and home to 7,000 prostitutes.  There were cortigiane onesti (honest courtesans) and the cortigiane di candela (courtesans of the candle). Rome’s most famous courtesan was a woman named Imperia, whose father had been a singer in the Sistine Chapel’s choir.  Raphael and Imperia were romantically involved… in which paintings did he paint her likeness?  School of Athens?  Transfiguration.

P201- Creating of Eve – “conjuring gesture of a magician.”

P202- Isaiah – seated version of the David.

P203- medallions- based on woodcuts.

P204- Heliodorus above Isaiah.

P211- “… the pope was suffering from hemorrhoids.”

P217- “… the Italian male’s refusal to allow his wife out of doors unless she first donned a veil… Luther learned that syphilis and homosexuality were rife among the clergy and that even the pope suffered from the French pox.”  French pox = syphilis?

P221- Look up Quercia, creation of Adam cartoon, 1511.

P224- Raphael, Triumph of Galatea – Villa Farnesina.

P225- Raphael’s Parnassus: Portrait of Sappho is that of Imperia!

P235- “Michelangelo = Sublime vs. Raphael = Beautiful.”  Excellent analysis of the Heraclitus figure:

Put another way, Michelangelo’s individualistic and isolated figures from the Old Testament had eclipsed the elegant and congenial classical worlds of Parnassus and the “new Athens.”

… writer Edmund Burke in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published in 1756: those things we call beautiful have the properties of smoothness, delicacy, softness of color and elegance of movement.  The sublime, on the other hand, comprehends the vast, the obscure, the powerful, the rugged, the difficult–attributes which produce in the spectator a kind of astonished wonder and even terror.  For the people of Rome in 1511, Raphael was beautiful but Michelangelo was sublime.

Especially in his prophets, sibyls, and ignudi, Michelangelo had brought the power, vitality and sheer magnitude of works of sculpture such as the David in the realm of painting.

So: even though he had been taken away from the “supreme expression of art”, he decided he’d do it anyway.  In your face, Julius!

P238- Colonna & Orsini, two families of feudal barons.

P241- 2nd half of ceiling–Sibyls and Prophets were on average 4 ft. taller.  Four days to paint Adam.

P242- Boccaccio on Giotto–”Whatever he depicted had the appearence, not of a reproduction, but of the thing itself”.  THIS IS THE GOAL.

P243- The figures that surround God in the Creation of Adam: Why 10 cherubs?  Quote of a man who did not identify the “old man” as God.

P245- “Really no precedent for his conception of the finger-to-finger transmission of the spark of life from God to Adam.”  Again, look at Jacopo della Quercia at San Petronion in Bologna.

P246- Adam’s finger not by Michelangelo – Vasari & Condivi thought the masterwork had yet to be painted, i.e., they did not consider the reclining nude to be one of the finest moments.

P247- “The Creation of Adam was finished by the beginning of November 1511.”

P248- The bronze of Julius II, made by Michelangelo, was given to Alfonso d’Este, who then melted it down to create a massive cannon called “La Giulia”.

P249- Raphael’s Expulsion of Heliodorus – political allegory for the expulsion of the French.

P250- Cartoon of the Expulsion of Heliodorus… it has since disappeared.

P251- French, Bentivoglio, Alfonso d’Este, French Cardinals, Colonna family, Raphael’s Great Love, Margherita Luti.

P252- Go to Villa Farnesina!  1511 – Portrait of the Pope.

P256- The Separation of the Land and Water took 26 days.

P257- “Michelangelo’s breathtaking use of foreshortening in this scene raises an interesting question.  He once claimed that an artist should have “compasses in his eyes,” by which he meant the painter must be able to arrange the perspective of his paintings by instinct alone, without resorting to mechanical aids.”

But, “in the 1430s Leon Battista Alberti invented what he called a “veil” to assist painters in their work.  It consisted of a net with intersecting threads that was stretched over a frame to create a grid of regular shapes.”  THIS is similar to what I want to make.

“Leonardo designed (and probably used) similar aids… as did Durer.”

P258-259- The Battle of Ravenna… Nicolo Machiavelli: “battles in Italy were commenced without fear, continued without danger, and concluded without loss.”  Not Ravenna.  “the most violent cannonade between armies in the field that the world had yet seen.”

“It was horrible to see how every shot made a lane through the serried ranks of the men at arms,” wrote the Florentine envoy to Spain, “sending helmets and heads and scattered limbs lying through the air.”

12,000 soldiers died, 9,000 of them Spaniards in the pay of the Pope.

The Orlando Furioso – “the ground was dyed red and the ditches brimming with human gore.”   Get the book Orlando Furioso.

P262- Gaston de Foix, French commander.  Struck fear into the hearts of Romans, including Julius II.  But de Foix was killed in the Battle of Ravenna.

P263- Michelangelo seems not to be distressed by the distruction of the bronze by Alfonso.

P264- Real-life “monster” born in Ravenna.

P265- “irreverent marginalia.”  Martin Schongauer’s The Temptation of St. Anthony.

P266- bronze nudes, sinister, demonic, pointed ears… lycan?

P269- Gregory XI forsook the Lateran palace for the Vatican in 1377 because of its position near the Tiber and the Castel Sant’Angelo.

P270- The f—ing Swiss… 3 times crossing the Alps!

P271- Many competed to work with Raphael.

P272- Miracle at Bolsena

P273- Expulsion of the French

P276- Alfonso d’Este’s negotiations of peace with the Pope… Alfonso on the scaffolding with Michelangelo.

P278- di sotto in su

P279- Leda and the Swan… painted by Michelangelo, 18 years later for Alfonso in the palace in Ferrara.

P280- Ariosto and Alfonso fleeing Rome…

P282- Jeremiah – influenced Rodin’s the Thinker.

P283- Connection between Jeremiah on the Sistine vault and Raphael’s pensioroso in The School of Athens.  Had Michelangelo seen this?

“I get my happiness from my dejection,” he wrote in one of his poems.

P285- 1492 = death of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

P286- Defense of Florence: Machiavelli conscripted foot soldiers to from peasants and farmers to defend the city.

P291- “I lead a miserable existence” – Michelangelo to his father.  Around this time he was painting the crucifixion of Haman.

P292- Pendentives = rescue of the Jewish people from the machinations of their enemies.  Haman took 4 giornate.  Haman also appears in Dante’s purgatorio.  Vasari describes Haman as “certainly the most beautiful and most difficult.”

P294- Brazen serpent = 6 weeks.  Brazen serpent and its connection to the Laocoon:  muscle-wrenching, spine-twisting.  Also connection to Battle of Cascina and Battle of Centaurs.  Completed around the time of the massacre of at Prato.  An image shaped by Michelangelo’s connection to Savonarola.

P296- Michelangelo, matter-of-factly: “I have finished the chapel I have been painting… other things have not turned out for me as I had hoped.”

P298- Jonah as precursor to Christ; Jonah as spectator.

P300- Exchange between Julius and Michelangelo:

“It really ought to be retouched with gold,” insisted the pope.

“I do not see that men wear gold,” replied Michelangelo.

“It will look poor,” protested His Holiness.

“Those who are depicted there,” joked the artist, “they were poor too.”

P303- Julius II dies February 21st, 1513.

P308- Palazzo Caprini?  Raphael’s house.  Where is this in Rome?  Raphael died on his birthday.  Vasari says he died because he “indulged in more than his usual excess.”

P309- The baker’s daughter.  Vena amoris… the finger to the heart.  Recent x-rays of La Fornarina suggest that a ring was painted over on her left hand.

P310- Room of Constantine took 4 years to paint.

P313- Joshua Reynolds!  “Copy Michelangelo.”

P314- Explosion in Castel Sant’Angelo that shook the vault – 1797

P316- Restoration chemicals.

P318- Goethe in Rome, 1780’s… “without visiting the Sistine Chapel we cannot understand what one man is capable of achieving.”

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