The present decoration of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Hall of the Great Council) in the Palazzo Ducale was realized after the disastrous fire of 1577 during which all the structures of the ship's-keel Gothic ceiling and the wall-paintings were destroyed. An immense flat ceiling, in accordance with the taste of the end of the century, was constructed with gilded cornices sculpted in high-relief, which framed a series of paintings. The canvases were dedicated, thematically, to the Glorification of Venice, in remembrance of the numerous military undertakings in the East or on the mainland by the Venetian ground troops. On the ceiling great importance was given to the victories of the Venetian army in conquering the mainland; along the wall to the dispute between Alexander III and Frederick Barbarossa, who reached an agreement in Venice with the political mediation of Doge Sebastiano Ziani; and to the events of the Fourth Crusade, led by Doge Enrico Dandolo in the early years of the 13th century.
Tintoretto's Defence of Brescia is one of the thirty five panels on the ceiling of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio.
The chapel was built between 1475 and 1483, in the time of Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. A basic feature of the chapel itself, so obvious that it is sometimes ignored, is the papal function, as the pope's chapel and the location of the elections of new popes. Furthermore, the building was in some respects a personal monument to the Della Rovere family, since Sixtus IV saw to its actual construction and the frescoes beneath the vaults, and his nephew Julius II commissioned the ceiling decoration. Oak leaves and acorns abound, heraldic symbols of the family whose name means literally "from the oak."
The Chapel is rectangular in shape and measures 40,93 meters long by 13,41 meters wide, i.e. the exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament. It is 20,70 meters high and is surmounted by a shallow barrel vault with six tall windows cut into the long sides, forming a series of pendentives between them. A marble mosaic floor of exquisite workmanship describes the processional itinerary up to and beyond the marble screen, to the innermost space, where it offers a surround for the papal throne and the cardinals' seats. The architectural plans were made by Baccio Pontelli and the construction was supervised by Giovanino de'Dolci.
The walls are divided into three orders by horizontal cornices; according to the decorative program, the lower of the three orders was to be painted with fictive "tapestries," the central one with two facing cycles - one relating the life of Moses (left wall) and the other the Life of Christ (right wall), starting from the end wall, where the altar fresco, painted by Perugino, depicted the Virgin of the Assumption, to whom the chapel was dedicated. The upper order is endowed with pilasters that support the pendentives of the vault. Above the upper cornice are situated the lunettes. Between each window below the lunettes, in fictive niches, run images of the first popes - from Peter to Marcellus - who practiced their ministry in times of great persecution and were martyred.
The wall paintings were executed by Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli and their respective workshops, which included Pinturicchio, Piero di Cosimo and Bartolomeo della Gatta. The ceiling was frescoed by Piero Matteo d'Amelia with a star-spangled sky.
Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II della Rovere in 1508 to repaint the ceiling; the work was completed between 1508 and 1512. He painted the Last Judgment over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, being commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese.
The controversial Self-Portrait in the Uffizi is very similar to the Blessing Christ, but its poor state of conservation has prevented critics from attributing it objectively and definitively to Raphael. Nevertheless, many art historians consider it a work from the Florentine period. The soft light which pervades the portrait certainly recalls Leonardo, but the restless and problematic elements which Leonardo's complex figurative research present are absent. The intense representation of the youth shows no sign of internal tension. On the contrary, it communicates a serene observation of reality through a pictorial rendering rich in synthetic capacity.
The glass ball which hangs from the ceiling was borrowed by Vermeer froom Willem Heinsius' book of emblems; it was described there as a symbol of man's power of reason. The large Crucifixion on the back wall is by Jacob Jordaens.