Vatican Museums

Ancestors of Christ. This tender scene appears in one of 14 lunettes—crescent-shaped areas above windows—that depict the genealogy of Christ “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” related in Matthew. A plaque in each lunette identifies the ancestors—for this example they are three 7th-century B.C. kings of Judah: Hezekiah, his son Manasseh, and Manasseh’s son Amon, but none of the names on the plaques can be matched to particular images. We cannot identify the “ancestors” in this detail, beyond saying that they are of the families of Hezekiah, Manasseh and Amon.

The lunettes were the first works cleaned in the restoration program of the 1980s. Here we see a subject before cleaning; on the front cover the same subject is shown after cleaning. The unfamiliar appearance of the ancestors in photographs stirred up some of the initial criticism that cleaning was removing Michelangelo’s final layers and exposing his “flattish, schematic, and deliberately bright-colored underpainting.” The response of the authors and of the Vatican is that those first pictures were shot with too much focused, artificial light—giving a false flatness to the paintings.

Although thematically part of the ceiling, the lunettes are actually on the vertical side walls. Above eight of the lunettes, triangular areas on the ceiling called pendentives, depict ancestor families sitting or reclining gracefully within their framed spaces. Immediately to the right of Joel is such a pendentive, above a lunette in deep shadow (see detail at the end of “Understanding the Sistine Chapel and Its Paintings”).