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Botticelli is credited for three frescos in the Sistine Chapel, along with seven papal portraits (paintings of previous popes). The images in the Sistine Chapel were of the Old and New Testament. The New Testament paintings were on the North side of the building and the Old Testament paintings were on the South side. The images always followed the same pattern. The main part of the biblical story or theme was portrayed in the front or foreground of the picture and in the middle and background parts of the picture there were additional scenes that related to the subject. The background was especially evident on the sides of the frescos so the next picture in the sequence could appear as a continuation of the landscape line.
Botticelli’s painting Adoration, his reputation, and his ability to work with frescos is what caught the attention of Pope Sixtus IV. Botticelli was then asked to paint a trial fresco on the North wall; his Temptation of Christ painting. The four trial paintings done by Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli were used to determine their pay. Painting began in October 1481 and was completed by March 1482. This short time indicated that the original 16 commissioned frescos were finished very quickly. The efficiency was due to the help of other painters working under the masters as the projects moved to completion.
Botticelli painted three major frescos in the Sistine Chapel: The Temptation of Moses and The Punishment of Korah were on the South wall and the Temptation of Christ on the North wall. He also painted at least seven of the papal portraits that were in the window zone of the chapel. As far as the content of the pictures, Botticelli was not one of the decision makers. He was told what subjects to portray and then to portray their stories. Just being able to be part of the project in the Sistine Chapel was a great honor for any artist during that time period.
The Temptation of Christ was Botticelli’s trial fresco for the Sistine Chapel. It was according to this work that his pay scale was set up. The landscape of The Temptation of Christ was one used by most artists of the Sistine Chapel. There is a rocky landscape that frames the picture, yet allows for the artist of the picture placed right next to it to continue the same kind of landscape to create a unified look.
There are three temptations shown in this picture. The one on the far left is when the devil, dressed as a monk, tried to convince Christ to turn the rocks into bread proving that he was the true Son of God. The middle one is on the top if the building where the devil, again disguised as a monk, tempts Christ to cast himself down. The last temptation, on the far right, was when the devil offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world but instead, Christ cast him down into the depths. Christ, the one true God, resists all temptations and evil loses every time.
In the foreground or front of the picture stands Nehemiah. Nehemiah stood for leadership and was known for continuing the traditional religious rites. He was also an architectural developer. Nehemiah represents Pope Sixtus, who was also a builder. The building in the middle ground of the picture resembles a church renovation project that Pope Sixtus worked on.
There are two oak trees in the background. One is flourishing the other is not. The oak trees are symbolic of Giuliano della Rovere, who was eventually elected pope, and alo are symbolic of Sixtus IV. The less developed oak tree symbolizes Giuliano who had large potential for growth and the more developed tree symbolized the older, more experienced Pope Sixtus IV.
Botticelli had many requirements in his Sistine Chapel paintings, but his style remained. He incorporated the facial detail that he used so many times in his portraits on the left side of the image. On the right side he used actual people as subjects and used a realistic style to their faces. The two female subjects in this image are painted in the same way as Botticelli’s painted female subjects in some of his other works.
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