The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in the Vatican City. Its fame rests on its architecture, which evokes the Temple of the Old Testament, and its decoration, frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, whose ceiling is legendary. The Sistine Chapel is considered to be the greatest artistic creation in the history of mankind. Michelangelo could possibly be the greatest artist who has ever lived. His paintings in Sistine Chapel, the triumph of Renaissance humanist ideal, have changed the meaning of art forever.
The sibyls are prophetic women who were resident at shrines or temples throughout the Classical World. The five depicted here are each said to have prophesied the birth of Christ. Three of the sibyls (Libyan, Cumaean and Delphican) are on one side, separated by the prophets Daniel and Isaiah. The remaining sibyls (Erythraean and Persian) are on the other side, with the prophet Ezechiel between them.
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Delphic Sibyl (1509)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Delphic Sibyl (Detail) (1509)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Erythraean Sibyl (Detail) (1509)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Cumaean Sibyl (1510)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Cumaean Sibyl (Detail) (1510)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Libyan Sibyl (1511)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Libyan Sibyl (Detail) (1511)
- Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Persian Sibyl (1511)
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Delphic Sibyl (1509)
Unwinding a scroll with her left hand, the Delphic Sibyl seems to be turning toward the viewer. The effect of movement is accentuated by the swirls of the light blue mantle lined with yellow fabric with red shadows and the pattern of the folds of the light green tunic. The very refined colours are characterized by delicate tonal passages and enamel-like surfaces.
The unique female figures and representations of the eternal mother are overwhelming. Of course, the Sibyls differ vastly from the Prophets, for Michelangelo remained mindful of the saying 'mulier taceat in ecclesia'. With the exception of the Pythia of Delphi, they are not conceived as priestesses. It is that which is beautiful and most characteristic, in short, their essentially feminine quality, that is brought out. As a group, including not only the three beautiful young women but the others too, they represent the Renaissance ideal of the virago, in the original sense of the word; a woman physically and mentally heroic. One must imagine these Sibyls free of male bondage, chiefly because their male aspect, existing side by side with the female - for they are not masculine women - is very much in evidence in the form of strength and power. This, admittedly, applies least of all to the Pythia of Delpbi who shines with a priestly and inspired radiance, which does not prevent this pagan servant of Apollo from being a young and enchanting girl.
The Delphic virgin is coifed with a white priestly band beneath a peacock blue headdress draped like a crown or diadem; she gives true oracles and lives on in the great Holy Virgins of Christian art, who often wear a sibylline expression. The left arm bent over the open scroll is prefigured in the 'Madonna Doni', the fair hair is blown back by the wind of the spirit.
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Delphic Sibyl (Detail) (1509)
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Erythraean Sibyl (Detail) (1509)
Turning to leaf through the large book on the lectern, the sibyl is wearing a white tunic with greenish reflections under a red bodice. The orange mantle lined with green is folded over her legs. Behind the lectern, one of the two small boys lights a lamp, while the other rubs his eyes, as if he has just woken up.
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Cumaean Sibyl (1510)
The Cumaean Sibyl oppresses by the sheer weight of her bulk and a commanding ugliness. With the open folio bound in green and her two genii gazing at its pages over her shoulders she has become one of the Fates, a towering shape with human features. Whenever Sibyls are mentioned, the Cumaea at once comes to mind. In the art of Michelangelo and other painters her powerful presence overshadows every other Sibyl, even her younger and more beautiful sisters, such as the Delphica.
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Cumaean Sibyl (Detail) (1510)
The Cumaean Sibyl is depicted as a massively built old woman, with a dark complexion and a wrinkled face, completely absorbed in the difficult task of ddecipheriong the meaning of what she is reading in the large book, which rests next to her on the side of the marble throne.
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Libyan Sibyl (1511)
The Libica, or Libyan Sibyl brings pre-Christian prophecy to a close. With a graceful movement, displaying her lovely shoulders, her foreshortened arms, and the lowered profile of her fine head with its gold tresses, she lays aside the open book as if about to close it. It is a large and cumbersome volume which might well contain all former prophecies. The splendid and superbly gowned figure is extremely colourful; gold tints prevail in her dress lined with salmon pink: the gold of wisdom, the only certain kind of knowledge. Here as elsewhere, one marvels at the extraordinary effects obtained with the cold, flat technique of alfresco painting, which had none of the advantages and material possibilities of oil. This figure is that of a noble lady rather than a prophetess, the opposite and counterpart of the gloomy Jeremiah. A faint smile lightens her otherwise remote air.
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Libyan Sibyl (Detail) (1511)
The complex, almost serpentine, rotation of the young sibyl, who seems to be rising from hrer seat, gives prominence to the remarkable richness, elegance, and delicacy of the juxtapositions of colour. Thus, the light violet of the ribbon tied around the sibyl's head is placed next to the yellow ochre of the braid; the deeper, brighter yellow of the bodice, bordered with gray-blue and open at the sides, is next to the red ochre of the lining and the light violet of the robe, which resembles that of the ribbon.
Sistine Chapel, Five Sibyls, The Persian Sibyl (1511)
Primordial, totally detached, her eyes focused on things outside this world, and she herself almost a cave of mystery - such is the Persica of the Sistine Chapel. Something of Leonardo's chiaroscuro has crept into her composition. She is a presence still more powerful and secretive, magical and abstracted than the Cumaean Sibyl.
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Sistine Chapel. High Renaissance Masterpiece.
Sistine Chapel. Book of Genesis.
Sistine Chapel. The Ignudi.
Sistine Chapel. Seven Prophets.
Sistine Chapel. Five Sibyls.
Sistine Chapel. Lunettes.
Sistine Chapel. Pendentives.
Sistine Chapel. The Ancestors of Christ.
Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgement.
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