The Sistine Chapel in Second Life

Believe it or not, this isn’t Real Life in the photo above.  I shot this photo this morning in the reproduction of the Sistine Chapel at Vassar Island; and you can see the quality of the builder’s work here for the most part in “pasting” the image textures onto the prims.  Only the joint lines between the vault of the ceiling and the pointed arches over the windows show traces of artifact.  The builder put this together from a series of photographs to reduce the distortion found in many photos of this semicircular work of art.  You can see where inexperience and the physical limitations of 2006 in Second Life show up in the lack of joins between the ceiling and the walls — but the eye is drawn away from the physicality of material to the glory of the art created via papal command by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

According to The Writer’s Almanac, All Saints’ Day (November 1), this day in 1512, was the day on which Pope Julius II allowed people beyond himself, the artist Michelangelo (and probably the pope’s immediate circle) to see the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time.  Avatars who complain about the difficulty of building or creating anything in Second Life should read the history of what Michelangelo had to go through to execute the commission for this huge set of frescoes.  This, obviously, was not a single day’s work — we’re talking the Sixteenth Century, after all — but it took much more than a few days, as well.  It took four years for him to finish the frescoes, between 1508-1512, and part of the effort (according to Wikipedia) was due to his own fault in negotiating for a far grander scheme than Julius was planning on.  He complained bitterly that he was a sculptor, not a painter, and actually tried to bug out from the work when the “warrior pope” was diverted by a conflict with France.  Once the fighting was over, Julius told Michelangelo to get to Rome and start up, and the artist had no choice but to begin.

He succeeded magnificently.  Most people will recognize the central figure of the entire sequence, the creation of Adam by God, especially if they’ve seen the opening sequence of Ben-Hur.  This is just one part of a sequence stretching across the entire vaulted ceiling, and down the triangular “lunettes” to the sides between window arches.  But it was a painstaking process — sections of plaster applied; then the artist standing on his scaffold and painting directly to the wet plaster.  (Contrary to popular conception, Michelangelo didn’t lay on the scaffold; and he chose not to use the more traditional method of a paper “cartoon” pinned to the wall and powdered charcoal “pounced” through pinpricks to lay down an outline on the surface prior to painting.)  And it was done again the next day, and day after day, with Julius breathing down Michelangelo’s neck to get it done.

When it was done, the viewer was presented with a sequence of panels with scenes from the Old Testament, depicting the Creation, the Fall, and the destruction of the world save for Noah and his family.  The Old Testament was considered by the theology of the time as a “prefiguring of the New Testament,” (Wikipedia), with the Creation being equivalent to the Nativity.  The sides of the central figures on the vault — the pendentives and spandrels — depict prophets (both Classical and biblical) who foretold the coming of Christ; and the lunettes are the ancestors of Jesus.  All of this falls down toward the altar at the front of the chapel, whose blank wall was filled twenty years later, again by Michelangelo, with an even more epic work of art — the Last Judgment.

Vassar College, the owner of the island where the chapel reproduction is built, still maintains this work; but it looks like there is little activity done there today.  Most items I see laying about the area with RL information textured onto them date from 2006-2007.  It doesn’t look like this piece of work will be “decommissioned” any time soon, but I’d make sure to visit sometime, to see a piece of Second Life heritage.

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