In my last visit to Rome, the Sistine Chapel was under renovation, and in between the scaffolding boards, straining my neck and competing with the hordes of other curious tourists, I was able to make out a finger, an angel, maybe Noah, but I’m not entirely sure as my neck began to hurt too much.
This month, the spectacular work of art, comes down to our level, gloriously stretched onto supersized boards, set “socially-distant” apart for optimum viewing, comfort, and appreciation. The Sistine Chapel Exhibit has opened on Sixth Avenue and Watts Street, in a non-descript brick building that complements the simple surroundings where these most famous of the ceilings’ panels now stand, well-it, and delightfully “in your face.”
Feeling as if we’ve stumbled upon an artist’s working warehouse studio, the track lighting from above points at over 30 panels from the masterpiece, commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508, and completed in 1512. Using various Bible interpretations from the Old Testament, each panel represents important moments and characters, including Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden, the great flood, the moment when God created the sun and planets, and separated the water from the earth, adding in prophets and sibyls, or women prophets.
Attendees can download the audio commentary on their cell phones for each painting which makes the visit both entertaining and informative. Listening to each audio clip, we learn the small details in each painting that prove both fascinating and sometimes trivial. For instance, the image of God in these works has been given a lot of attention since as never before had the “creator of the universe” been seen in such striking human form, and “with kneecaps” as one audio clip mentions. Probably the most iconic panel is “the creation of Adam,” where God and the newly formed being have outstretched fingers just about to touch. Adam is lounging in the same position on earth, as God is similarly positioned, yet hovering in the heavens, signifying their sameness in form.
The exhibition, which takes about 60 to 90 minutes to complete is well-spaced out, provides guests with ample opportunity to linger and listen about how the artist portrayed these Bible moments, how every brush stroke held thoughtful significance, and where nothing was random. A short film loop cast onto the wall comically explains the history of the commission, the artist and both his complaints and his perfectionism, even how he prevented his boss from seeing any of the ceiling until completion. For both the art aficionado and art novice, this exhibit is wondrous and awe-spiring, a testament to how a work of art can continue to mesmerize centuries after its unveiling.
Exhibit runs until January 2, 2022. It’s already gone global with exhibitions in Shanghai, Berlin, Vienna, Mexico, and nationally in Chicago, Phoenix, and now NYC.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff