The Sistine Ceiling stands at a cusp of a development in artistic production. While it preceded the moment when printmaking became a fully integrated, and often determining, part of artistic production, through the interaction of Raphael and his followers with Marcantonio Raimondi and other printmakers, the Ceiling was already created when the visual senses of both the artist and his public were already profoundly affected by printmaking and printed illustrated books. Michelangelo’s earliest work was a painted version of the Temptation of Saint Anthony by Martin Schöngauer, marking only the beginning of an ingrained fascination with prints apparent in his adaptation of printed images by artists ranging from Andrea Mantegna to Albrecht Dürer. Michelangelo was also particularly drawn to illustrated books. This went well beyond the illustrated vernacular Bibles, that he certainly used, and provided both specific instances for the Ceilings ichnographic invention together with formal and design solutions. Furthermore it may be suggested that the viability of the stylistic revolution that the Ceiling represented within the broad context of the High Renaissance depended, in part, on an audience which itself avidly consumed a wide range of printed images.
Charles Robertson is Senior Lecturer in History of Art, Department of History, Philosophy and Religion, Oxford Brookes University. His research interests and publications include studies of Milanese art and architecture, particularly the work of Bramantino, the relationship of painting and architecture in the Renaissance, the impact of printmaking, and Michelangelo. He is currently completing a study of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement as a highly contingent work.