Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel

A closer look at the art of the Sistine Chapel, decorated by the greatest artists of the Renaissance

by Edel Cassidy
Fresco on the North Wall of the Sistine Chapel
Giving the Keys to St Peter, 1481 and 1482, Pietro Perugino. North Wall, Sistine Chapel. Fresco. 
Words Edel Cassidy

Previously known as the Cappella Magna, the Sistine Chapel is named after Pope Sixtus IV (pontiff from 1471 to 1484), who had it rebuilt between 1477 and 1480. As the pope’s private chapel, it is the site of the principal papal ceremonies and is used for the conclave of the College of Cardinals for the election of a new pope.

Frescoes of the 15th century

Because of the importance of the Sistine Chapel, a team of the finest artists of the High Renaissance were commissioned to decorate it. These included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Cosimo Rosselli who painted frescoes on the walls of the chapel from 1481 to 1483.

Six frescoes of the Sistine Chapel on the north wall depict the Stories of Jesus, and include:

  • Baptism of Christ by Pietro Perugino and assistants 
  • Temptations of Christ by Sandro Botticelli 
  • Vocation of the Apostles by Domenico Ghirlandaio 
  • The Sermon on the Mount attributed to Cosimo Rosselli 
  • Giving the Keys to St Peter by Pietro Perugino 
  • The Last Supper by Cosimo Rosselli

The southern wall is decorated with the Stories of Moses, and include:

  • Moses Leaving for Egypt by Pietro Perugino and assistants 
  • The Trials of Moses by Sandro Botticelli and his workshop 
  • The Crossing of the Red Sea by Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio or Biagio di Antonio Tucci 
  • Descent from Mount Sinai by Cosimo Rosselli or Piero di Cosimo 
  • Punishment of the Rebels by Sandro Botticelli
  • Testament and Death of Moses by Luca Signorelli or Bartolomeo della Gatta
Fresco by Michelangelo depicting the Creation of Eve
The Creation of Eve, 1508–1512, Michelangelo. Sistine Ceiling, Sistine Chapel. Fresco.

Sistine Chapel ceiling

It was during the reign of Pope Julius II (pontiff from 1503 to 1513) that Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Sistine ceiling, providing us with one of the most celebrated works of art in history. He worked on it for four years, from 1508 to 1512.

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