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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saints Peter and Paul

Michelangelo Buonarroti, (1475 –1564)
La crocifissione di S.Pietro The Crucixion of St Peter 1546-1550
Fresco 625 × 662 cm
The Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace, The Vatican


Michelangelo Buonarroti, (1475 –1564)
Conversione di Paolo The Conversion of St Paul 1542-1545
Fresco 625 × 661 cm
The Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace, The Vatican

Pope Paul III requested Michelangel to paint two great frescoes for the new chapel which he was building for the Vatican Palace: The Cappella Paolina. These works were his last ever frescos.

The Chapel has been closed for seven years for restoration.

Pope Benedict XVI will oversee an opening ceremony on July 4th.


The frescoes in the Cappella Paolina are unlike the other frescoes in the nearby Sistine Chapel.

The art historian Sydney Freedberg wrote of these frescoes:

"The human body is the earthen shell, the carcer terreno of a spirit that seems not to possess a private will or even specified identity. This is an abjuring of a whole life's history, and of the aspirations of the time in which it had been made: in the deepest possible sense an anti-classicism, and a negation of the Renaissance."

The composition and narrative of the two frescoes, the Conversion of St Paul and the Crucifixion of St Peter, are highly formalised, the rhetorical gestures of the protagonists and the settings deliberately abstracted from reality. They are deeply spiritual, and almost visionary.

The face of Paul fallen and in awe of the divine light has the face of an old and idealised Michelangelo himself.

The face of St Peter on the cross nails the viewer to the spot. This was the Pope`s private chapel. Michelangelo was not averse to speaking on the same level as Popes.

Michelangelo originally envisioned Peter’s body completely nude. However the figure was censured by being repainted with a loincloth

After he finished the last fresco, Michelangelo wrote a sonnet . In it he announces the end of his life and renounces art. The translation is by Creighton Gilbert:

My course of life already has attained,
Through stormy seas, and in a flimsy vessel,
The common port, at which we land to tell
All conduct's cause and warrant, good or bad,
So that the passionate fantasy, which made
Of art a monarch for me and an idol,
Was laden down with sin, now I know well,
Like what all men against their will desired.
What will become, now, of my amorous thoughts,
Once gay and vain, as towards two deaths I move,
One known for sure, the other ominous?
There's no painting or sculpture now that quiet
The soul that's pointed toward that holy Love
That on the cross opened its arms to take us


See also Cappella Paolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican