Students celebrate 500th anniversary of Sistine Chapel

By Mark Iacampo, U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels Public AffairsNovember 19, 2012

Is it straight?
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Lying down on the job
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Creating a masterpiece
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HOHENFELS, Germany -- Five hundred years ago this month, Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was unveiled to the world for the first time. To honor the anniversary, Hohenfels Middle-High School art students have rendered their own versions of many of the classic figures and created their own masterpieces, which are now on display in the school's Great Hall.

"I started planning this last spring," said Michele Mihanovich-Franz, HMHS art teacher. Mihanovich-Franz said she wanted the display's "grand-opening" to coincide with Pope Julius II delivering evening vespers on All-Saint's Day, Nov. 1, 1512, the day the ceiling was first viewed by the public.

To accomplish this, she introduced her students to the High Renaissance art movement basically on the first day of school, and they embarked on a six-week workshop.

"I really tried to impart the significance to the kids that every day for the last 500 years thousands of people stand in line for hours not to look at a sporting event, not to look at a celebrity, but to look at the work of an artist," Mihanovich-Franz said. "It really sank in over the six-week workshop. They really got into it."

Senior Patrick Vass was particularly excited by this assignment.

"I'm a history buff and I've studied the Renaissance since seventh grade, so trying to create these masterpieces of my own ability was a great experience," he said.

"I really liked that I got to draw my own representation of great artists' work," added freshman Jalisa Arango.

While even the most lax art aficionado will recognize the famous image of God reaching out his finger to impart life to Adam, Michelangelo's masterpiece actually contains some 343 different figures. Students chose a variety of images to emulate, and their representations now cover the walls of the Great Hall.

One of the more popular images is the Cumaean Sibyl, one of 12 ancient prophets that surround the ceiling's main panels.

"The kids were very intrigued with her because they thought at first she was a man, but she's a very masculine woman," said Mihanovich-Franz, noting that Michelangelo, in fact, has been criticized by some over the masculine physiques of many of his female portraits. "It became something of a hot-potato."

A persistent legend surrounding the creation of the ceiling is that Michelangelo painted his figures while lying on his back. Mihanovich-Franz' class decided to put that theory to the test.

"It was great getting to experience what they experienced," said ninth-grader Tonja Vass. "One of our assignments was to draw on our backs to see what that felt like."

"We had them try it to determine is that a myth," Mihanovich-Franz said. "I asked them to think about what it would be like to paint without electricity, by candlelight, lying on your back."

"It was tiring and hard," Tonja said, with the whole class unanimously agreeing that the story is merely a legend.

The Sistine Chapel's artwork is actually a fresco, a technique for wall painting used since ancient times which involves spreading a mixture of sand and lime over the wall and then applying the colors while the wall is still wet. As the mixture dries, the colors fuse chemically with the lime becoming permanent.

"I wanted them to have the ultimate Michelangelo experience, so I also had them create frescos," said Mihanovich-Franz. "I wanted them to see how aggravating it was to work with this medium."

"The frescos were kind of difficult," admitted freshman Ethan Mosher. "The plaster stuff got stuck to the paintbrush if it wasn't dry enough."

"And it cracked and stuff," added ninth-grader Gabriella Cutler.

"And with fresco, if you don't like how it looks, you have to mix another whole batch and put it on top of the first," said Mihanovich-Franz.

"But it was really cool to recreate what they did, to try and use their style of how they did things, but do our own version of it," said Chris Atienza, freshman.

The artwork was hung in the Great Hall with the aid of Soldiers from the 527th Military Police Company. First Sgt. Robert J. Petersen said the Soldiers were greatly impressed with the students' talent.

"Our impression of the artwork was one of inspiration, well thought out and masterfully put to paper," Petersen said.

The workshop also included sculptures, both large and small, which will be on stage during this year's Winter Concert. The concert, which will include Renaissance music, runs from 6-9 p.m., Dec. 13.

Mihanovich-Franz is hoping to create a disc of photographs of the "500 Years Later -- 1512-2012" exhibit and share it with Pope Benedict XVI.

Michelangelo said that a man paints with his brain, not his hands, and the six-week workshop did not neglect the mind. History and theory went hand in hand with lighting and perspective.

"When I went to Italy, I saw a lot of things at the Vatican, but I didn't really know who they were from or what they were about, but I learned a lot about that now," said ninth-grader Jasmine Hack.