A Close-up Look at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Frescoes

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I am always skeptical about traveling art exhibits, particularly when they don’t feature original works. I mean, wouldn’t it be just as beneficial to look up the pieces online or in a book?

This was my initial thought when I learned the touring exhibit Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition was coming to my city through the end of the year. It turns out it was a very cool experience.

The exhibit is organized by a group called Special Entertainment Events, Inc. (SEE, Inc.) and Bridgeman Images. The organizers have also presented a diverse group of traveling shows including exhibitions focused on the art of Frida Kahlo, the worlds of Star Trek, Michael Jackson, the Titanic, and King Tut. This particular exhibition, made use of high-definition photography and printing techniques to recreate each of the 34 frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, life-size and close-up.

Birthof Adam
One of the highlights of the Sistine Chapel exhibit was being able to see, in actual size, one of Michelangelo’s most famous frescoes, ‘The Creation of Adam.’ All images: Rick Tate

I was a little reluctant, as the standard admission to the exhibit was around $22 for adults ($10 more with a souvenir upgrade) and around $18 for child admission. There are no family package options, but there are discounts for seniors, the military, and students. Since family time is getting scarcer with a teen and young adult in the household, we took advantage of this opportunity, including one souvenir package that included an exhibit program, a ticket for a postcard, and an audio tour app download.

That was actually a pretty good deal if you opt for one of those per family. I usually purchase a program at a museum, and it was cheaper with the package. Plus, the app is usable after you leave the exhibit.

Now, the exhibit itself was pretty much as I expected: a peaceful walkthrough of a painting-lined art space giving us a close look at some of the most famous images of Renaissance art.

Before you head in, there’s an Artrageous informational video summing up Michelangelo’s process and his problems getting the chapel’s frescoes completed. The videos aren’t exclusive to the exhibit, but they area good choice to help younger visitors grasp the history and work behind these images.

There’s a cute “angel wings” photo op background, not unlike those at theme parks and zoos. Then you enter the main gallery area where the huge frescoes, for the most part, are presented in the order they can be seen on the ceiling.

The two presented out of order are the most famous fresco on the ceiling, The Creation of Adam, and the chapel wall mural behind the altar, The Last Judgment. The Last Judgment, was actually a later addition Michelangelo created 25 years after the completion of the ceiling. However, it is such a detailed iconic piece of Renaissance art, it served as the perfect grand finale for the exhibition.

There are pluses to visiting an exhibition such as this, even for people who may have toured the actual Sistine Chapel in the past.

First, as beautiful an experience as being in the Sistine Chapel would be, you can’t get up close to the actual frescoes. You can get right up to these paintings and really see the details that made these works such masterpieces.

Also, there is no photography allowed in the actual chapel. I’m not criticizing that decision, but family photos are some of my favorite souvenirs. This gave us a chance to take several beautiful, colorful shots of the art and of our daughters admiring it.

Images of ‘The Prophet Isaiah’ and ‘The Libyan Sibal’ along with our youngest being her own “work of art.”

The crowd factor was also a bonus. The tickets were issued for entry at a set time, although visitors could stay as long as they like. This kept the crowd numbers low, making the experience more pleasant and intimate.

The actual chapel also requests respectful silence from visitors. There were no people at this exhibit being excessively loud, but it is hard for young visitors who want to learn about things and stay completely silent. My girls, especially my youngest, enjoyed being able to share things she learned from the informational signage or point out where she found Michelangelo’s two self-portraits in The Last Judgment. The experience was very low-key, but it wasn’t at all boring

Was this exhibit as good as seeing the actual paintings all together in their own original space? Probably not, if I’m honest. However, I don’t know if or when I will ever get a chance to visit the actual chapel—or even Italy—so if this is as close as I can get, I am happy that my family and I were able to see it.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition has more than one exhibition touring cities in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. To find a nearby exhibit, visit chapelsistine.com.

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