Michelangelo Buonarroti is considered one of the greatest artists of all time. He was a sculptor, a painter, an architect and a poet of the High Renaissance, and undoubtedly a great genius. His contemporaries admired him so much for his style and his temper, that they often called him “il Divino” (the divine one).
A number of Michelangelo’s works rank among the most famous in existence, and many of them are in Rome. The following are the 5 most important Michelangelo’s works in Rome, and, except for the first one, you can see them for free!
1 – The paintings in the Sistine Chapel
Despite Michelangelo hold a low opinion of painting, he created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: the scenes from the Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and The Last Judgment on its altar wall.
Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of the Bible. The complex design includes several sets of individual figures, which allowed Michelangelo to fully demonstrate his skill in creating a huge variety of poses for the human figure. At the center of the ceiling, The Creation of Adam is the best known of all, the hands of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations.
The Last Judgment is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ who is surrounded by prominent saints. Altogether there are over 300 figures, most of which were originally shown as nudes, and Michelangelo was accused of being insensitive to proper decorum. Later the nudities were cover up by painted draperies. After recent cleaning and restoration many of the drapes were removed.
The Sistine Chapel, is the large papal chapel built within the Vatican by Pope Sixtus IV, from whom the chapel is named, and it is the location for Papal Conclaves and many other important services of the Catholic Church. The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums, and to admire Michelangelo’s frescoes you have to buy the Museums tickets (is best to pre purchase the tickets online, at this site biglietteriamusei.vatican.va, to skip the line).
Take an advice: bring a binocular with you, to fully appreciate the details of the frescoes!
2 – The Pietà
The Pietà is the first masterpiece of Michelangelo, and he sculpted it when he was only 22.
This sculpture depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion, and it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. Michelangelo personally chose the piece of Carrara marble to carve his masterpiece, and it’s so perfect that seems alive.
The Pietà is the only work he ever signed. History tells that the young sculptor had heard two men praise his masterpiece but accredit it to another person, an elder sculptor. It made Michelangelo so angry, he wanted to make up for the insult. During the night, by candlelight, he entered the church and carved his name on the diagonal strap that crosses Maria’s chest.
The sculpture is currently in the first chapel on the right entering Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Entering the Basilica is free, but expect to stay in line for security checks. Note that there is a dress code to enter inside the Basilica: shoulders, knees and belly, must be covered, both for men and women!
3 – The Mosè
The Mosè is a sculpture commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb. It depicts the biblical figure Moses with horns on his head, based on a description in the Latin translation of the Bible used at that time. The figure is seated in a serious attitude, and rests with one arm on the tables. The draperies, the hair, the muscles, the veins are so perfect and realistic, that is incredible it is made of marble.
The Moses is housed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, and the entrance is free of charge. Always remember that an appropriate dressing code is required to enter a catholic church: even if they are not so strict as in Saint Peter’s Basilica, is appreciated to have knees and shoulders covered.
4 – Piazza Campidoglio
In 1534-38 Michelangelo Buonarroti completely redesigned the Square in all its details. He turned Piazza Campidoglio no longer towards the Roman Forum, but towards St. Peter’s Basilica, which represented the new political center of the city. The reorganization of the square was commissioned by the Pope Paul III.
Michelangelo preserved the oblique orientation of the pre-existent structures, obtaining an open space with a slightly trapezoidal plan. He aligned the new facades to the trapezoid, in order to expand the perspective towards the visual fire, that is the Palazzo Senatorio. For this purpose he decided to build a new building, called Palazzo Nuovo (literally “new building”), to close the perspective towards the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, and to pave the square.
Michelangelo also placed in the center of Piazza Campidoglio the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, made in gilded bronze, that was previously located in Piazza San Giovanni (where now stands the obelisk). The original statue, after a long restoration, is now preserved in the Capitoline Museums, while a copy of it has been placed on the square.
Today Palazzo Senatorio is the location of the Municipality of Rome, and the Capitoline Museums, opened in 1734 (it is the oldest public museum in the world) are housed in the other buildings.
5 – The Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture, and the largest church in the world. Its Dome is the tallest dome in the world.
Michelangelo took over the project of Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1546, after some of the greatest architectural and engineering minds of the 16th century draw numerous schemes for it. He returned to the concepts of Bramante, and managed to develope his ideas for a centrally planned church, strengthening the structure both physically and visually. The Dome, not completed until after his death, has been called “the greatest creation of the Renaissance”.
Because of its location and because the projection of the nave screens the dome from sight when the building is approached from the square in front of it, the greatness of the work of Michelangelo is best appreciated from a distance, and it became one of the distinctive points of Rome’s skyline.
From inside the Basilica (the entrance is free), the Dome appears in all its greatness, perfect and impressive, entirely decorated with mosaics.
It is possible to climb up the Dome, to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Vatican and of Rome. If you are not claustrophobic, and do not mind to go up a narrow and long staircase, the access to the Dome is open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm in winter, and to 6.00 pm in summer. Ticket price: 10€ with the elevator to the terrace, and then 320 steps; or 8€ without elevator (551 steps).
I assure you that the view from the top repays the price and the effort!