In the history of Western painting, if the word "magnificent" is used to describe a work of art, then Michelangelo Buonarroti's (1475-1564) zenith fresco for the Sistine Chapel in Rome is undoubtedly the most deserving. However, the process of completing this task had a rather convoluted origin.
If you are impressed by a handsome young statue of David, then you will understand that Michelangelo was not only a painter but also a quite remarkable sculptor. Michelangelo was convinced that painting could never compete with sculpture, which is round and solid, while painting captures only the skin of the surface.
In fact, before accepting the Sistine mandate, he was working on an even more ambitious project, that of carving the massive tomb of the same sponsor, Pope Julius II. Julius II was a rare and ambitious man with great energy and willpower, and he wanted to build a tomb for himself during his lifetime to make it worthy of his position as supreme ruler of Christendom. Michelangelo was thrilled to be working for a man with enough money and power to ensure that he could fully exploit his creativity.
He handpicked the best stones and craftsmen and repeatedly conceived figures in his mind. For Michelangelo, it was a thrill to be able to engage in sculpture. In his view, flesh and blood of people were embedded in cold stone, and he wanted to liberate them through his own hands. However, just as he was about to set out to compete with the ancient sculptors, Julius II suddenly abandoned the project and turned his interest to another great project, the construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica. Julius II was bent on demonstrating his merit by tearing down the original Peter's Church and building a more imposing and magnificent church on top of it. The price paid for this, however, was that the original plan for the tomb must have been lost because its location was right inside the old church. Some scholars say that the Pope did this because he listened to the slander of someone else, the architect of the new St. Peter's Basilica, Bramante.
In Italy at that time, every move of an artistic genius was highly scrutinized, and there seemed to have been fierce competition among artists to gain a higher reputation. Bramante may have been jealous of Michelangelo's reputation, fearing that he would accomplish another amazing masterpiece, and therefore did everything he could to tear him down behind his back while subtly earning himself a chance to be noticed.
Michelangelo's disappointment in this matter can certainly be imagined, and he even became worried, fearing that his rival would send someone to assassinate him. However, what made his mood worse was that the next task assigned to him by the Pope was to complete the zenith painting of the Sistine Chapel. As mentioned earlier, Michelangelo was very reluctant to engage in painting.
Although we can still see some of his wonderful sketches today, they were all sketches for his study of human movement. Before that, he had never painted a large fresco. He repeatedly pleaded with the Pope that he was a sculptor and not a painter, but the Pope was so determined not to change his mind that Michelangelo felt that his opponents were deliberately trying to make a fool of him through this thankless task. It immediately aroused the ambition and fighting spirit of the master, who not only undertook the task but also abandoned the initial too mundane scheme.
He dismissed all his assistants and locked himself up in the chapel, building the scaffolding that would help him reach the heights, trying out fresco techniques with which he was unfamiliar, and going completely alone with a project beyond the reach of mere mortals.
Michelangelo depicted the story of Genesis from the Bible. In the old testament of the Bible, God created the sky and the earth, the light and the darkness, the sun and the moon, the water and the land, the man and all things in six days. Michelangelo made his work equally grand and passionate in its mission. He divided the long strip in the center of the ceiling into nine parts: God divides light from darkness, God creates the sun and the planets, God divides the water from the earth, The Creation of Adam, The Creation of Eve, Adam and Eve are tempted and are sent from Eden, Noah and his family make a sacrifice after the flood, The Great Flood, Noah is drunk and disgraced.
The figures in the painting do not feel flat in any way and are as solid as sculpture. Adam falls helplessly to the ground, mature and fit but not yet full of life, waiting for only the light touch of God. God's full cloak makes him look like a warm ball of fire, and he stretches out his firm and strong arms to give Adam wisdom and, more importantly, to bring him "the passion of God".
Michelangelo's creativity also gave his audience a passion that they had never experienced before. Just below the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, two side-by-side walls are covered with works by previous generations of artists, including Michelangelo's teacher and the famous Botticelli. However, when comparing the two, there is no doubt that Michelangelo's work is more exciting.