Planning to visit the Vatican but unsure what famous artwork you should see? Don’t worry, we have run 10s of thousands of Vatican tours which makes us Vatican experts. Here is what we believe is the most famous artwork that you absolutely positively should not miss when visiting the Vatican.
The 23 Most Famous Artwork At The Vatican
Art is about emotion. It is an artist unleashing their innermost thoughts and feelings onto canvas for all to witness. It is such a powerful act, that many have been criticized, scrutinized, and even killed just for doing the act.
However, few actually see it, and even fewer understand. If you look at a painting and don’t feel anything, that is because you haven’t heard its story. This is the very reason we recommend guided tours.
If you hear the story and don’t get chills, then it is not great artwork. Its purpose is to inspire emotion. You don’t have to have a strong art background to appreciate art. It definitely helps, but it is not essential.
You can make your visit memorable by joining a guide with a strong art background who is skilled in the art of story-telling. That’s what we do!
23. The Victory Of Christianity Over Paganism (Ceiling)
Tommaso Laureti | 1585 | Fresco | Raphael Rooms- Hall of Constantine
This jewel of a painting is missed by most people (Look up at the ceiling)! If ever there was one picture to promote the expression ” A picture paints a thousand words”, this is the one.
What better way to show one’s triumph over another? You replace the exact thing you triumphed over! Originally, on the pedestal, there was a pagan statue of the pagan god Mercury ( Greek Hermes). It was been replaced by a Christian cross and the previous statue (or symbol) has been crushed to pieces below. There is no truth behind this, but I imagine that this scene actually happened at one point.
I have probably stared at this painting literally a hundred times. What never ceases to amaze me is the depth that Laureti was able to enable in the painting. The 3D effect in a 2D platform is mesmerizing.
22. The Colossal Statue Of Augustus
Unknown Artist | Unknown Year | White Marble | Pine Cone Courtyard
Today, Instagram allows us to immortalize ourselves by adding photos for everyone to see. Sculptures was the Instagram of the Ancients.
Octavianus Augustus was the first and arguably one of the most important Ancient, Roman Emperors. He created the Pax Romana ( Roman peace) after a century of strife and turmoil. He lived to the ripe, old age of 75 and was also Emperor during the early years of Jesus.
As with Instagram, we tend to show our best ” sides” in a photo. Back in the day, even if they were older, they would order a statue to be made of themselves during their youth. The strategy worked, since we can easily recognize a statue of Augustus as a young man, but have no clue what he looked like when he was older!
21. The Borgia Apartments
Various Artists | 15th Century | Fresco | Borgia Apartments
The Borgias on Netflix is an extremely popular show. I personally enjoy it, because it allows you a visual of what life was like back in the 15th century.
The Borgia apartments are the rooms where the Borgia family lived during Alexander VI’s papacy. Pinturicchio painted many of the Frescos which are beautiful examples of early Renaissance artwork. Take some time and walk through these rooms ( there are 5).
While walking through, you will notice some of the figures in the paintings have their face removed. That is because later popes hated the Borgias so much, they had their images removed! How is that for erasing someone’s memory?
Alexander VI has remained infamous for his selfish use of the papacy. He had several children and was a more temporal monarch than a spiritual leader. He terrorized cardinals and princes who did not submit to his authority. These rooms witnessed the exploits of Rodrigo Borgia and his children.Enrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
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20. St. Jerome (Da Vinci)
Leonardo Da Vinci | 1482 | Oil on Wood | Pinacoteca Room IX
I’m not really into autographs, but if I met Da Vinci on the street, I would have definitely asked him for his since he was a rockstar. Da Vinci wasn’t just a master painter but also an engineer, inventor, and even a builder of siege weapons!
To clone him today you would have to combine Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Jackson Pollack, and you might get close. If we gave da Vinci access to the internet he would likely explode due to information overload.
The sketch is of St. Jerome who, for his love of God, lived as an ascetic for many years in the Syrian desert. He depicts St. Jerome in an emaciated manner, with a lion at his feet ( his companion after having pulled a thorn from the lion’s foot). He is holding a rock that he uses to beat himself as penance. I s it not enough to forsake everything and live in the desert, but to compound that with hitting yourself in the chest with a rock? St. Jerome is old, bald, and with a look of a man who has felt serious pain in his life.
The sketch became the property of Angelica Kauffmann, a Swiss painter, and was lost at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was discovered by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, uncle of Emperor Napoleon, cut into two parts and was being used as household scrap wood. It is amazing to think about how many priceless works of art may still be scattered around the world.Enrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
19. Statue Of Hercules In Bronze
Unknown Artist | 1st-3rd Century AD | Bronze | Round Room
To find an ancient statue in bronze is truly a gift, considering that most were melted down by the Romans back in the day to recycle the metal. Hercules is gilded with big eyes staring at you and curly hair. Archeologists found the statue in 1864 under a courtyard near Campo de’ Fiori.
The statue was then given to Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) and that is why it’s in the Vatican today. Hercules is easily identifiable due to the Nemean Lion skin wrapped over his arm, the club he is resting on, and the apples of the Hesperides in his left hand. The statue has been dated with a few different dates ranging from the 1st-3rd centuries AD. Historians point to the style being copied from the Neo Attic style of the 4th century BC
Cool Fact– when they found “Hercules”, it was lying on its back with a slab of travertine stone on top of it like a burial. On top of the slab of stone was cut the following letters- F C S (Fulgur Conditum Summanium). The statue had been struck by lightning and since Hercules was the son of Zeus, the Ancient Romans had taken that as a sign that the statue should be properly buried together with the remains of a lamb.
18. The Crowning of the Virgin
Raphael | 1502-1503 | Tempera on Wood | Pinacoteca Room VIII
When I was 19 years old, I was roaming the bars of Bologna. At the same age, Raphael painted The Crowning of the Virgin. I have to say that this is one of my personal favorites due to the simple and elegant beauty that the Master shows in the figures of each individual person depicted.
The Crowning of the Virgin painting was part of the altarpiece for the Oddi Family chapel in Perugia. The painting breaks down two scenes with the bottom half of the grave where the virgin Mary was resting with the Apostles around her. St. Thomas holds the girdle which was given as a gift from the Virgin herself and inside there are flowers where she would have been in the tomb since she has ascended to heaven. The Apostles are all looking in amazement as they see her image above with Jesus.
You’ll find the Virgin Mary in the upper portion of the painting receiving the crown of the “blessed mother” from Jesus. Angels surround them and some are even playing musical instruments. The play on color is similar to the transfiguration where the darker colors are below and as your eyes naturally ascend upwards, the color scheme becomes lighter. The faces are showing the ideal beauty of man and express even more so in the angelic face of the Virgin Mary.
17. Artemis Of Ephesus
Unknown Artist | Unknown Date | White Marble | Gallery of the Candelabra
Arguably, the most unique statue in this room and definitely the biggest eye-catcher. Many people will walk past the statue and you will hear them say- Look at the multi- breasted statue! Upon closer inspection you will realize that they are bull testicles, considering that Artemis was the goddess of fertility and what symbol resonates more with fertility than bull testicles?
The statue is one of many copies that you can find which would have originated in Ephesus, Asia Minor in modern-day Turkey. Ephesus was a booming port city during the Ancient Roman Empire and even today is a huge archeological park.
The city was dedicated to Artemis and one of the biggest temples in Ancient times was the Temple of Artemis. Inside of the temple could be found these statues of Artemis with the bull testicles.
Cool Fact: In the bible, St Paul goes to Ephesus to preach and is almost violently killed. By who? The merchants of the temple of Artemis made a pretty penny on the sale of statues of the goddess. If there was one true God, then all the silversmiths and merchants would go out of business.
16. Augustus Of Prima Porta
Unknown artist | 1st century A.D. | White Marble | New Wing
There are certain advantages to being the first. McDonald’s was the first real fast-food chain. Ford was the first to manufacture using an assembly line. In many situations, the ” first” is always remembered. Augustus was the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. He erased the chaos which had been destroying Rome more or less for the last century. Arguably, he increased the quality of life and made people want to live again.
This beautiful statue was found in 1863 in Prima Porta, which is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome today. Back in ancient times, it was the summer house of Augustus’ wife, Livia.
Livia commissioned a sculpture of her husband as a military supreme commander. He gestures show that he is speaking to his soldiers with great pride.
Filled with strength and intelligence, his face is captivating and makes us easily understand why not only Livia but also all of the women and men in Rome admired the emperor who had made Rome into a great and powerful empireEnrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
Raphael | 1518-1520 | Tempera on Wood | Pinacoteca Room VIII
If Raphael had been alive in the 80’s he would have probably have been a rockstar. He loved to “party” which wore him out and he died at the young age of 37. If he had access to the same drugs as in the 80s, he would have likely joined the “27 club” but thankfully that is not the case. He created a lot of great art between 27 and 37 years of age. Historians say he died from syphilis which did not have a cure at the time.
Remember that this was made specifically to be an altarpiece, so it would be up above our heads. Our eyes are naturally attracted to brighter colors and Raphael played this perfectly by gradually making the colors brighter as you look up. In doing so, Raphael is guiding you on how to look at this painting by using your own senses. The artist wants you to first look at the scene below and only then work your way to the top of the painting with the culmination in Christ himself.
The painting depicts 2 stories in the Gospel according to Matthew with that of the Transfiguration and the meeting of the Apostles with the obsessed youth who will be cured when Jesus returns from Mount Tabor. The mastery of the painting is shown in numerous ways, so let’s start with the color. Raphael was famous for his vivid use of colors. Especially now after the painting has been cleaned, we can see the colors the way Raphael and his contemporaries would have seen them.
Seeing his body dead, and his work so alive, it felt as if our heart would break in two.Giorgio Vasari- Contemporary of Raphael & his biographer
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14. The Annunciation
Raphael | 1502-1504 | Tempera on Wood | Pinacoteca Room VIII
Did you ever wonder why all Renaissance painting figures look like they are on some kind of wonder drug? I often ponder this and don’t have a great answer to explain the phenomenon. Imagine an angel coming down from the heavens and visit you! I personally would be freaking out, but Mary is so chill and relaxed. Holding up her hand as if to say, “Can you hold on one second, I am on the other line with god. See him up there in the archway.”
The reason for this is that Renaissance painters were more concerned about the ideal beauty of the painting itself than the subject matter. Therefore, as long as everything looked good, that was the goal.
The Angel Gabriel is approaching the Virgin Mary to let her know of the imminent coming of Jesus Christ (Annunciation). Mary is seated by herself reading a book and seems to be expecting this moment with ideal beauty being reflected in her face and even the way she holds up her one hand in welcoming the Angel. In the background, you can see two arches that open up to a clear sky. One of Raphael’s trademarks was to add deep perspective in his paintings with a light blue color of the sky to show the most distant point.
You will also notice the 3D effect he creates with the columns and even the dove in the distance. This painting resembles a similar painting by his teacher Perugino. Raphael would have studied under the Early Renaissance master and it got to a point, where many said that they couldn’t tell the difference between master and student.
13. The Belvedere Torso
Apollonios | 1st century B.C. | White Marble | Room of the Muses
Why the heck did the Vatican feature a statue with no head, hands, or feet right in the middle of a room? As modern people, we have tv, google, the internet, etc. to understand anatomy. The magic of this statue is that the body is in motion, contorting to his left, but all of his muscles compliment that movement perfectly, which means the sculptor had intimate knowledge of anatomy. This was a big deal even in the Renaissance period since it was forbidden to dissect humans to study muscles and anatomy.
How do we know the name of the sculptor? He engraved his name on it writing- “Apollonios, son of Nestor, the Athenian, created it”. This statue was found in the late 15th century and was in the Vatican collection by 1530.
This is the work of a man who knew how to do it better than natureMichelangelo
Michelangelo displayed his admiration for this statue repeatedly in the Sistine Chapel. In the Chapel, the angels around each ceiling painting, are curving their bodies in the same direction as the torso. In his Last Judgement, St Bartholomew’s body is also contorting to a degree in this fashion.
12. Liberation Of St.Peter
Raphael | 1512 | Fresco | Raphael Rooms Room of Heliodorus
Have you ever heard of art critics or people in a museum speaking about the ” light” the artist employed in the painting? Well, this painting portrays a light in the most fascinating way possible! I would even say the usage of light on steroids. Raphael was able to show, 500 years ago, how a room could be lit up in a painting by playing with the light. Besides the light, the actual robust colors used make this painting shine.
I remember walking into this room for the first time after it had been cleaned and the vibrance of colors was shocking! Remember as well that the medium used to paint this was a fresco. Fresco painting is unforgiving with no mistakes allowed and you have to be fast. That statement renders this painting even more precious.
The story is about the first pope St. Peter who is a prisoner in Rome and during the evening an angel comes and breaks his chains to set him free. Julius II commissioned this painting since, before coming to Pope, he was the Titular Cardinal of St.Peter in chains in Rome. In that church, you can still see even today the chains that St. Peter wore which were broken by the angel.
Unknown Artist | Original from 4th Century BC | White Marble | Room of the Apoxyomenos
How perfect would this statue be in a commercial for Bed Bath & Beyond? Apoxyomenos literally means ” to clean oneself” and that is exactly what the athlete is doing. Back in the day, athletes would clean themselves by rubbing oil into their skin and with dust would scrape it off with a curved instrument called a Strigil.
According to the Vatican Official Archives, “The statue is a Roman copy from around 50 AD of an original greek bronze sculpture by the great Lysippus from around 320 BC. Of particular note is the motion of his foot in the air and also the extension of the arm which creates space and gives depth to the sculpture”.
The Ancient Greeks knew about soap but limited it to washing clothes. Both ancient Greeks and Romans used to rub their skin with oil and pulverized pumice stone, then emove it using a strigilEnrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
10. Crucifixion Of Saint Peter
Guido Reni | 1604-1605 | Oil on Wood | Pinacoteca Room XII
Disclaimer- I really really like Baroque artwork. However, I will keep myself from rambling here. Suffice to say that I think these next few paintings are awesome! It is impossible to not speak about Caravaggio when you see this painting. Caravaggio himself will be described below, Caravaggio’s influence on Guido Reni in this painting is undeniable.
The first thing you notice is the real-life muscle tone of St.Peter. You can see that there is nothing idealized here and this could have been a real representation of what his body looked like. Next, you notice that there is no perspective, so nothing is happening in the background, there is only blackness. This allows you to focus 100% of your attention on the scene taking place.
This painting marks Guido Reni’s first success in Rome. This was commissioned for the Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane. It was afterward sent to Paris like so much other artwork and brought back to Rome in 1819 by Pius VII where it has remained in the Pinacoteca ever since.
St. Peter is being crucified for being a Christian during the reign of Nero in 68 AD. St.Peter, not feeling worthy to die the same way Jesus did, requests to be crucified upside down and that is what you see happening here.
Almost all of the painters of the day, and those who followed, were strongly influenced by Caravaggio’s use of new colors as well as by his new and powerful naturalism. No one has ever been able to imitate him, however.Enrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
9. Martyrdom Of St. Erasmus
Nicolas Poussin | 1629 | Oil on Canvas | Pinacoteca Room XII
Nicolas Poussin ( pronounced POOH-SAHN) was born in Normandy, France, but he was definitely Italian at heart and spent most of his life there. Like many, ( myself included) once in Italy, the magical spell of this country trapped him. This dramatic painting is Nicolas Poussin’s first in Rome and not for the faint-hearted!
The painting depicts the martyrdom of St Erasmus during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD. The future saint is stretched out with his hands behind his back, while the executioner is pulling his intestines from his body and rolling them around a sailor’s capstan. Above him is a pagan priest who is pointing at a statue of Hercules that Erasmus refused to pray to. Above him are angels who are coming down to him and offering him the palm and crown which are both symbols of martyrdom.
Besides the graphic nature of the painting, Poussin used extremely vivid colors in this painting, especially white, blue and red. At this point, we are at the height of Baroque and also the realist movement started by Caravaggio (see below). Most people don’t know that this painting was actually given to the painter Pietro da Cortona as a commission, but was then handed over to Poussin who even used the preparatory sketches made by da Cortona for the painting!
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Caravaggio | 1604 | Oil on Canvas | Pinacoteca Room XII
Caravaggio would have been the kind of dude you want to hang out with at a bar. But probably would not want to introduce to your family. Caravaggio’s life was anything but usual. For example, he walked around Rome with a sword, was supposedly part of a local gang, and even killed a man in a duel.
As a result of the killing, he was forced to flee Rome and traveled south painting along the way from Naples, to Sicily to Malta and back. As the legend goes, he was waiting for a pardon from Pope Urban VIII when one of his enemies finally caught up with him and killed him in Porto Ercole.
It would be difficult not to write an entire book about this painting or about Caravaggio’s artwork in general. Up to now, there were set templates of how to paint saints and holy people (being painted with ideal beauty and purity). Caravaggio smashed these concepts into the ground by painting saints and holy people as ordinary people with ordinary defects. This revolutionary idea forever changed the art world.
In one of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces, we see Jesus not being laid in the tomb, but on the anointing stone by Nicodemus and John. Close to him are the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Cleophas who is raising her arms and eyes towards heaven in prayer. It is an extremely pious moment with everyone’s expression that of sadness. There is no perspective, only blackness and you can see the muscles bulging out of the legs of Nicodemus. There is nothing ideal expressed here except the extreme agony that everyone present is experiencing.
Why follow the manner of other artists when you can follow nature itself?Michelangelo Merisi- Caravaggio
7. Apollo Belvedere
Unknown Artist | 2nd Century AD | White Marble | Octagonal Courtyard
“The Apollo Belvedere” has been in the Vatican since 1508 because it was owned by Pope Julius II whose property it was even before he was even pope. Therefore, like many popes before him, he brought all his artwork with him into his new home, the Vatican upon ascending the purple. The sun god Apollo has just let go of an arrow and is watching where it lands.
The statue is a Roman copy from the mid 2nd century AD of an original Greek Bronze statue by Leochares from around 320 BC. The exquisite hairstyle and flowing cape are remarkable for that period. The Greek writer Pausanias wrote that this beautiful statue once adorned the Agora, Athen’s main square.
Cool Fact: If you look closely at the face of Apollo, you will see a resemblance of Jesus Christ in the Last Judgement by Michelangelo! Michelangelo would have arguably studied these statues and used them as inspiration for his own works!
Of all the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction, the statue of Apollo represents the highest ideal of artJohann Joachim Winckelmann- 18th century Art Historian
6. School Of Athens
Raphael | 1508-1511 | Fresco | Raphael Rooms- Room of the Segnatura
The “School of Athens” is arguably one of the most famous paintings by Raphael due to its widespread use in textbooks. With this painting, he established himself as one of the most famous high Renaissance painters in the world. The painting, for our purposes, is actually famous for 2 reasons.
Firstly it is harmonious, symmetrical, and celebrates ideal beauty in all its forms, which was important in Renaissance paintings. Secondly, this painting is basically a yearbook of the most famous artists of the early 15th century. Raphael used the faces of his friends as models for some of the famous people:
- Leonardo Da Vinci is Plato pointing a finger in the air
- Bramante is Euclid, bending over a chalkboard
- Raphael puts himself in the painting on the far right side staring directly at us.
According to legend, as he was painting this room, Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel. One day Raphael got a peek of what Michelangelo was doing and was so impressed that he came back upstairs and broke a piece of plaster off the wall and put the face of Michelangelo as a tribute to how good he was!
Raphael saw the frescoes of Michelangelo and changed styleGiorgio Vasari- Contemporary of Raphael & his biographer
5. Faun With The Infant Dionysius
Unknown Artist | Unknown Date | White Marble | Gallery of the Candelbra
Did you know that ancient statues had eyes? Understandably this idea is crazy to most, so I felt that providing proof was key to convincing others. Look in the photo above and you will see that the Faun and infant Dionysius have glass eyes! While strange to us today, the idea is quite logical since if you make a statue today, you add eyes, right? The statue now is so much more life-like.
Ancient statues were also painted. As for the paint, you will need to trust me until you can actually see the statue in person. The remaining paint is in the hair of infant Dionysius.
The paints used were natural colors and after two thousand years beneath the earth or under the rain and sun these have disappeared for the most partEnrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
4. St Matthew
Guido Reni | 1635-1640 | Oil on Canvas | Pinacoteca Room XII
Sometimes in life, you see a piece of artwork and it just mesmerizes you. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t felt this before, but if you have then you understand. The intensity of the gaze and connection between these two figures is the most profound I have ever found in a painting.
The magic is the inaction itself. Neither of them is speaking. The Angel is looking up at St Matthew in a loving manner and St Matthew is reciprocating that look of affection with his own loving gaze. If this scene was taken out of context, you would simply imagine a painting of a grandfather and grandson expressing their love for each other. They don’t need to speak but understand each other perfectly.
Therefore, I have made this one of the top paintings to see at the Vatican. If you don’t share my feelings and don’t really like it, that’s ok. However, I recommend when you are at the Vatican Museums to stand in front of this painting in real life and see if the same effect doesn’t hit you too.
The painting is showing the Apostle Matthew as he takes a break from his writing to look at an Angel. The apostle is an old man that we can see today in the real world-wrinkles in the forehead, the disheveled hair, and the straining veins of the neck. The angel possesses rosy cheeks and an almost anemic look that you could find in many boys today.
3. Laocoön Group
Hagesandros | 1st Century A.D. | White Marble | Octagonal Room
If you are a Star Wars fan, then the Laocoön might resemble Han Solo, when he was frozen in carbon for Jabba the Hut. The sculptor was able to capture a precise moment of such pain. The statue was discovered on the Esquiline Hill in 1506 and was immediately brought to the Vatican for Pope Julius II. Once uncovered, it was identified right away as the Laocoön statues made by the sculptors on the island of Rhodes.
The statue represents a story from the Aeneid by Virgil. The Trojans believed the war to be over when they received the Trojan horse from the Greeks. Everyone except the priest Laocoön who warned it would be their downfall. Athena, who was siding with the Greeks, sent two serpents to kill the priest and his two sons, quieting them forever. The rest is history.
When they found the statue it was missing its right arm. Many artists made their own rendition of the arm with it pointing straight up in the air. Michelangelo looked at the body movement and realized that the arm should bend. A Swedish archeologist discovered the original arm in the 17th century and guess what it looked like? The arm was bent just as Michelangelo had made it. Supposedly Michelangelo’s arm is still connected to the back of the statue today!
2. The Last Judgement
Michelangelo | 1536-1541 | Fresco | Sistine Chapel
I want you to picture anyone you know who is 61 years old and male. Got it? Now I want you to imagine that person for the next five years is painting a wall that is 42ft high and 39ft long. I personally don’t know any 61 years who could do that today. The one condition I forgot to add is that the painting they create has to be so good, that it will be described as one of the best ever created in the history of man. Now you understand why Michelangelo is arguably the greatest of all time.
In the upper lunettes, angels are carrying instruments used during the passion of Christ ( the cross, the whip and column he was whipped on, and the crown of thorns. Below, an extremely muscular Jesus with no beard in a powerful position is presiding over the entire scene with a radiant halo bursting behind him. Figures that are recognizable are John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, St Peter holding the keys, and various other saints holding the instrument in their hands with which they were martyred.
Below, a group of Angels is blowing trumpets and holding 2 books that decide their fate ascending. to heaven or going to hell. Those redeemed are ascending from their graves while the condemned are descending into the underworld.
Here Michelangelo alludes to Greek mythology with the demon ( Charon) on a boat who is bringing all the damned souls over to the underworld. On the far right side, you will see the Devil himself and all the damned and lost souls behind him in Hell.
When the painting was unveiled, many were shocked by the amount of nudity in the painting. Biagio da Cesena who was a Cardinal said that this was better suited for a tavern than the holy chapel of the Pope. It is said that Michelangelo then changed the face of the devil to that of the Cardinal and wrapped a snake going around his body and biting him in the groin area.
Below Jesus, you will find St Bartholomew who was skinned alive. In his right hand, he is holding a knife, and in his left hand his own skin! Many contemporaries suggested that Michelangelo did a self-portrait in the skin!
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at allMichelangelo
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1. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling
Michelangelo | 1508-1512 | Fresco | Sistine Chapel
I cannot tell you how much I wished you were here, for until you have seen the Sistine Chapel, you can have no adequate conception of what man is capable of accomplishing.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The above quote by Goethe pretty much sums up all there is to say. The Sistine Chapel ceiling is unlike anything else and has no equals. This is why it is number 1. Add to the fact that he did it pretty much alone and he becomes part of the supernatural. Read these below bullet points, and he will seem alien-like:
- He was a Sculptor, not a painter
- He had to paint in fresco but had never really painted in this medium, so basically, his first attempt at fresco painting becomes the most famous painting in the world
- There was no scaffolding. He had to build his own scaffolding first to even reach the ceiling which was 60ft high
- Since he was a perfectionist, he basically painted the entire thing by himself
- No centralized heating, so he complained of stifling heat in the summer and numbing cold in the winter
- Developed an eye disease during the painting, which only went away once he finished the ceiling years later
The heart of the ceiling is the 9 central panels with arguably the most recognizable painting in the world being the Creation of Man panel. Here they are:
- Separation of Light from Darkness
- Creation of the sun, moon, and planets
- Separation of Land from Sea
- Creation of Man
- Creation of Eve from the Body of Adam
- Banishment from the Garden of Eden
- The Sacrifice of Noah
- The Flood
- The Drunkenness of Noah