The Pauline Chapel is located between the papal apartments
and St Peters within the Vatican complex. The chapel was originally used both
as Chapel of the Sacrament and as the Chapel of the Conclave where a new pope would
be elected a process that now takes place in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo
had barely finished his work on the Last Judgement on the South wall of the
Sistine Chapel when his patron, Pope Paul III handed him a new commission, the
decoration of the Pauline Chapel.
Michelangelo at the age of 67 was not pleased
at this new labour. For an artist who always considered himself to be a
sculptor rather than a painter the commission was particularly unwelcome.
However, he could hardly refuse the pope and so began work on a project that
would take eight years to complete. The work would consist of two giant
frescoes with the chosen subjects, The Conversion of Saul and the Crucifixion
of St Peter.
The Conversion of Saul depicts the Roman soldier who on his
way to Damascus is stuck by a bolt of lightning from heaven resulting in Saul’s
conversion to Christianity. The Crucifixion of St Peter, the first pope of the
Roman Catholic Church, features the moment that the saint, having been placed on
the cross, is being raised into position.
The Pauline Chapel is long and narrow. The paintings are
intended to be viewed in situ with the Conversion of Saul on the left well-lit
wall while on the darker right wall is the Crucifixion of St Peter.
Michelangelo has somewhat skewed the perspective and dimensions of figures
within these frescoes to accommodate the narrowness of the space. For this
reason some commentators have considered his Pauline Chapel paintings to be
inferior to his more famous work in the Sistine Chapel.