Scripture on the Ceiling
Every year more than 3,000,000 pilgrims and tourists from around the world flock to the Vatican in Rome and crane their necks to peer upwards at one of the most famous artistic masterpieces in Western culture: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
From God's creation of the world to Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden to Noah's Ark, Michelangelo's frescoes (art made by painting in wet plaster) are some of the most dramatic and inspiring representations of Genesis ever imagined. Surrounding the nine central scenes that run the length of the chapel are frescoes of Hebrew prophets and ancient seers. In niches and corners between painted columns and arches are even more biblical scenes. In this vast visual drama, Michelangelo presents a storyline of grace foretold through the prophets, incarnate in Christ, and present in the sacraments of the church. His frescoes are a magnificent example of how a Christian artist can interpret Scripture through art.
"The Sistine Chapel is one of the best known, the most studied and the least understood of great works of art," writes John W. Dixon in his book The Christ of Michelangelo. In order to understand fully why Michelangelo painted what he did, we need to keep in mind that what has become a temple to art in the minds of tourists and art historians was designed to be a place of worship to God.
For Michelangelo, faith and creativity—liturgy and art—are inseparably linked by a shared power to transform the viewer/worshiper. As Dixon notes, "Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel is participant in the liturgy, an instrument of the liturgy. … in ways we are only timidly beginning to understand, great paintings shape the imagination of those who participate in them." During the four years he ...