The Sistine Chapel: A $22,000 Art-Book Collection Features Remarkable High-Resolution Views of the Murals of Michelangelo, Botticelli & Other Renaissance Masters

Michelan­ge­lo did­n’t want to paint the ceil­ing of the Sis­tine Chapel. Hav­ing con­sid­ered him­self more of a sculp­tor than a painter — and, giv­en his skill with stone, not with­out cause — he felt that tak­ing on such an ambi­tious project could bring him to ruin. But one does not sim­ply turn down a job offer from the Vat­i­can, and espe­cial­ly not when one is among the most respect­ed artists in six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Italy. In the event, Michelan­ge­lo proved equal to the task, or rather, much more than equal: he com­plet­ed his ceil­ing fres­coes in 1512 for Pope Julius II, and 23 years lat­er was com­mis­sioned again by Pope Paul III to paint the Last Judg­ment over the altar.

Long before Michelan­ge­lo touched a brush to the Sis­tine Chapel’s ceil­ing, a team of painters includ­ing San­dro Bot­ti­cel­li, Pietro Perug­i­no, and Pin­turic­chio had already adorned the build­ing’s inte­ri­or with fres­coes depict­ing the lives of Moses and Jesus Christ.

Tak­en togeth­er, the Sis­tine Chapel has long been regard­ed as one of the great­est achieve­ments in West­ern art, if not the great­est of them all. Hence the six mil­lion tourists who vis­it­ed it each year before COVID-19; hence, more recent­ly, the painstak­ing care that has gone into the pro­duc­tion of The Sis­tine Chapel, a three-vol­ume at-book set that brings the build­ing’s Bib­li­cal visions as close as any earth­ly read­er cold hope to see them.

The fruit of a half-decade-long col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Vat­i­can and two pub­lish­ers, Call­away Arts & Enter­tain­ment and Scrip­ta Maneant, The Sis­tine Chapel demand­ed 65 nights of con­sec­u­tive work from its pho­tog­ra­phers, who shot 270,000 high-res­o­lu­tion images. Cap­tur­ing the mas­ter­works on the walls and ceil­ing down to the tex­tures of their paint and brush­strokes neces­si­tat­ed climb­ing up on scaf­fold­ing, just as Michelan­ge­lo him­self famous­ly did to make his con­tri­bu­tions in the first place. Lim­it­ed by the Vat­i­can to a print run of 1,999 copies, the set is now avail­able for pur­chase at Abe­Books, though it will cost you $22,000. In a sense that’s a small price to pay, for as Goethe put it, “with­out hav­ing seen the Sis­tine Chapel one can form no appre­cia­ble idea of what one man is capa­ble of achiev­ing.” Find The Sis­tine Chapel book col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a 3D Vir­tu­al Tour of the Sis­tine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca and Oth­er Art-Adorned Vat­i­can Spaces

Michelangelo’s David: The Fas­ci­nat­ing Sto­ry Behind the Renais­sance Mar­ble Cre­ation

New Video Shows What May Be Michelangelo’s Lost & Now Found Bronze Sculp­tures

Michelangelo’s Hand­writ­ten 16th-Cen­tu­ry Gro­cery List

The Sis­tine Chapel of the Ancients: Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er 8 Miles of Art Paint­ed on Rock Walls in the Ama­zon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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