The Sistine Chapel is a must-visit site in Rome. It is not only of religious importance to the Catholics, but it also has a vast history and it is a hub of the arts of the 15th-16th centuries. Whether the chapel is in your travel bucket list, or you have already been there, here is a list of little known facts about the Sistine Chapel that will surprise you. They certainly surprised me!

1. The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. 

The Cappella Maggiore was one of the chapels in Rome in which the Papal Chapel (a group of clerics and officials) met apart from other basilicas. There are records of the existence of this chapel in 1368, but there are no pictorial records.

Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the restoration of the Cappella Maggiore, which was in a ruinous state. It was not restored per se but demolished. On its site rose the Sistine Chapel, which name was given in honor of the Pope. The image shows what the Sistine Chapel probably looked like in the 15th century.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet1
The Sistine Chapel as it may have appeared in the 15th century ©cloudflare-ipfs.com

2. The architect of the Sistine Chapel is unknown. 

In those times, the architect’s name was not as relevant as the Pope who commissioned the work. Thus this “little” detail of who designed what, was omitted in documentations. Some sources say that the Sistine Chapel was designed by Baccio Pontelli and built by Giovannino de Dolci, but other sources say that it is unknown which one of these architects was the actual designer.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet2
The Sistine Chapel exterior ©cloudflare-ipfs.com

3. The Sistine Chapel is where the Pope is elected.

For Catholics; a very important event happens there. It is the place where the Cardinals meet and elect a new Pope (head of the Catholic Church). The elections last as long as needed until someone gets two-thirds of the votes. A chimney is installed in the roof when there’s an ongoing election; it is the signal-giver. Without a successful election, black smoke arises. When someone has been elected white smoke arises and the new Pope comes.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet3
The Sistine Chapel. Vatican ©vatican.com
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet4
The Sistine Chapel. Vatican ©vatican.com
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet5
The Sistine Chapel. Vatican ©vatican.com

4. The only replica in the world of the Sistine Chapel is in Mexico.

The Replica of the Sistine Chapel was inaugurated in June 2016 in Mexico City. It is the only existing replica of this chapel in the world. The Vatican’s Museum supervised its creation. With 170 days of photographic survey, the Mexican team put together a digital archive of around 2,700,000 photographs of the original Chapel.

This replica is a demountable structure that travels to different cities. The visitor 4 million will win a round-trip to Rome to visit the actual Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet6
Sixtina en México ©com
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet6
Sixtina en México ©com
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet8
Replica of Sistine Chapel ©chilango.com

5. The chapel has its environmental control system.

It was installed in 1993 to control the variable interior temperature and humidity that deteriorates the frescoes. These variables are caused by visitors. However, that system was designed for a load of 700 people at a time. In 2011 the chapel received up to 2000, more than double in less than 20 years! It had to be updated, and so it was in 2014.

The system challenges were to increase the airflow, but maintain the air still by the frescoes, to control humidity and CO2 concentrations and have minimal noise. Quite a challenge for HVAC engineers.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet9
Aerobiological monitoring of the “Sistine Chapel” link.springer.com

6. Michelangelo is not the only famous artist with paintings in the Sistine Chapel. 

By the time of Pope Sixtus IV’s death (ca. 1484), there were already many paintings on the walls of the chapel commissioned by him. These were made by the prominent painters: Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Botticelli. It wasn’t until 1508 that Michelangelo began with his work on the chapel’s ceiling.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet11
The Sistine Chapel. Paradise in Rome ©The Getty Research Institute. google.co.uk
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet12
The Sistine Chapel. Vatican ©com
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet13
©wikimedia.org

7. Eve appears in the painting of the Creation of Adam. 

The Creation of Adam is one of the most famous paintings, not only of the Sistine Chapel but of the history of art. It depicts Adam on the left and God on the right extending their arms towards each other, their fingers a millimeter away. That is all the explanation needed for the painting to pop into our heads.

The scene seems to be all about Adam and God. But is that all it is about? Take a peek at who is wrapped around God’s left arm. It is Eve. She goes almost always unnoticed as she holds onto the creator’s arm. The other figures surrounding God are the future progeny of the first man and woman on Earth.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet14
©commons.wikimedia.org

8. Michelangelo presumably painted his self-portrait in The Last Judgment. 

Some historians say that the flesh held by the man who represents St. Bartholomew is the self-portrait of Michelangelo. He depicts his flesh hanging between heaven and hell, acknowledging his sins and hoping to be given mercy, according to Dr. Esperança Camara in her writing for Smarthistory. Due to the many naked bodies, The Last Judgment was pornography even before the painting was finished. Michelangelo added his “skin” and a few other bodies after the scandals had already risen.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet15
©commons.wikimedia.org

9. The paintings were cleaned with the soft part of the bread and wine. 

The frescoes of the chapel have undergone many restorations. From history, we know that some of the cleanings were done with a wet cloth. Some others with odder materials like the soft part of the bread, or Greek wine on a sponge. When it came to reviving the colors, animal or vegetal glue was used. In the latest restorations, much more specialized and science-driven techniques were used; these frescoes are not to be experimented with.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet16
The Conservation of Wall Paintings, Symposium. (1987) London ©www.getty.edu

10. The restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes took longer than the time it took him to paint them.

The first stage of the latest restoration intervention was from 1980 to 1984. The next stages, which completed the restoration of the whole ceiling, were completed until 1990. That is in total 10 years of restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling. Michelangelo painted this ceiling, which is 40 m long by 13 m wide, in 4 years, from 1508 to 1512.

The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. - Sheet17
The Sistine Chapel. Vatican ©vatican.com

Bibliography and references

  1. The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of the Cappella Maggiore. 
  1. The architect of the Sistine Chapel is unknown. 
  1. The Sistine Chapel is where the Pope is elected.
  1. The only replica in the world of the Sistine Chapel is in Mexico.
  1. The chapel has its own environmental control system.
  1. Michelangelo is not the only famous artist with paintings in the Sistine Chapel.  
  1. Eve appears in the painting of the Creation of Adam. 
  1. Michelangelo presumably painted his self-portrait in The Last Judgment.
  1. The paintings were cleaned with the soft part of the bread and wine. 
  1. The restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes took longer than the time it took him to paint them.

Architectural Journalist

RTF

Wielkopolska, Poland

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