During all these months the pope kept insisting that Michaelangelo complete his ceiling quickly, quickly! Then one day Julius climbed the ladder unannounced.
“When will it be finished?”
“When I have have satisfied myself.”
“Satisfied yourself in what? You have already taken four full years.”
“In the matter of art, Holy Father.”
“It is my pleasure that you finish it in a matter of days.”
“It will be done, Holy Father, when it will be done.”
“Do you want to be thrown down from this scaffolding?”
Michaelangelo gazed at the marble floor below.
“On All Saints’ Day I shall celebrate Mass here,” declared the Pope. “It will be two years since I blessed the first half.”
Michaelangelo had wanted to touch up some of the draperies and skies a secco, in gold and ultramarines, as his Florentine predecessors had done below him. But there would be no time now. He had Michi and Mottino take down the scaffold. The next day Julius stopped by.
“Don’t some of the decorations need to be brightened with gold?” he demanded.
Useless to explain that he had wanted to do this, Now was he going to re-erect the scaffold and go back up into the vault.
“Holy Father, in those times men did not bedeck themselves with gold.”
“It will look poor!”
Michaelangelo planted his feet stubbornly beneath him, his teeth locked, his chin stiffened. Julius gripped his fist over his walking stick. The two men stood before the altar, beneath the heavens and glared at each other.
“Those whom I have painted were poor,” said Michaelangelo, breaking the silence. “They were holy men.”
On All Saints Day official Rome dressed itself in its finest robes for the Pope’s dedication of the Sistine Chapel. Michaengelo rose early, went to the baths, shaved off his beard, donned his blue hose, blue wool shirt.
But he did not go to the Sistine. Instead he walked out under the portico of his house, pulled back the tarpaulin, stood ruminatively before the marble columns he had waited these seven long years to carve. He walked to his work desk, picked up a pen, wrote:
The best of artists hath no thought to showWhich the rough stone in its superfluous shellDoth not include; to break the marble spellIs all the hand that serves the brain can do.
Standing on the threshold of his hard-earned freedom, disregarding his costly hose, the fine wool shirt, he took up his hammer and chisel. Fatigue, memory, bitterness and pain fell away. Sunlight streaming in the window caught the fist shafts of marble dust that floated upward.
This youtube clip below is 50 minutes long, but gives a good overview of the 1980’s restoration of the ceiling.