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Immersive Experience Brings Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Frescoes to the U.S.

A touring exhibition now on view in San Antonio, Chicago and Charlotte immerses visitors in 34 of the artist’s famed paintings

Organizers used state-of-the-art technology to create nearly life-size reproductions of Michelangelo's famed Sistine Chapel frescoes. (© Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition / Special Entertainment Events, Inc.)
smithsonianmag.com

Every year, millions of people visit the Sistine Chapel to admire Michelangelo’s meticulously painted frescoes. Those who can’t make the trek to Vatican City can explore the artworks online—but the experience isn’t always quite as awe inspiring. Luckily, an ongoing exhibition offers a welcome alternative to both of these options.

As Dana Nichols reports for the San Antonio Current, a new display in the Texas city allows visitors to explore 34 almost life-size reproductions of the Renaissance artist’s Sistine Chapel paintings, including The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgment.

Titled “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” the traveling showcase debuted in Dallas in 2016 and has since gone on view in cities around the world. The San Antonio version of the exhibition is taking place at Lambermont, a historic, 9,000-square-foot mansion that now serves as an event venue.

“Our aim is to bring you the art Michelangelo created close up,” Martin Biallas, CEO of SEE Attractions Inc., the production company that organized the exhibition, tells San Antonio magazine’s Vivian Phillips. “… In the Sistine Chapel you aren’t allowed to take any photos at all. Here, you can take as much time and as many pictures as you want. We’ve had people pose in front of The Creation of Adam reaching toward each other—that is something you could never do in the Vatican.”

Per James Gabriel Martin of Lonely Planet, the show’s creators used state-of-the-art technology to reproduce photographs taken of the artworks following restorations in the 1980s and ’90s. Because the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is curved, the team had to slightly adapt Michelangelo’s paintings for head-on viewing.

According to the exhibition’s website, organizers used “a special printing technique that emulates and the look and feel of the original paintings,” offering viewers the chance to see “every detail, every brushstroke and every color of the artist’s 34 frescoes.” Wall text and audio tours accentuate the immersive experience.

“We have this great audio guide that explains and gives you all the background stories and the secret messages and all that good stuff,” Biallas tells the San Antonio Express-News’ Deborah Martin. “It’ll take you about an hour and a half if you really listen to every track.”

The San Antonio show marks the first time “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” has gone on view in a historic mansion. Edwin Holland Terrell—the United States’ ambassador to Belgium under President Benjamin Harrison—built the estate in 1894, drawing inspiration from the chateaus and castles he’d seen during his trips to Europe, notes the Lambermont’s website.

The touring exhibition has traveled to China, Canada, Germany, Colombia and other countries around the world. (© Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition / Special Entertainment Events, Inc.)
The immersive experience debuted in Dallas in 2016. (© Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition / Special Entertainment Events, Inc.)

To date, other iterations of the exhibition have traveled to the World Trade Center in New York City, the Votivkirche in Vienna, the World Financial Center in Shanghai and Iglesia Del Teatro ABC in Bogotá, among other sites around the globe. In addition to the San Antonio show, versions of “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” are currently on view in Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ahead of the San Antonio exhibition’s opening earlier this month, organizers sold around 20,000 advance tickets, reports the Express-News. Event planners speculate that this uptick in advance sales is linked to Covid-19 restrictions finally being lifted.

“I think it has to do with a lot of people wanting to make sure they secure a ticket because they have been locked up so long,” Biallas tells the Express-News.

“Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” is on view at Lambermont in San Antonio, Texas, through September 6.

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