This past April my husband and I celebrated our anniversary by taking a trip to Italy. It was amazing. The food, the architecture, the history, the museums. No kids. One of the highlights of our trip was a tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We were fortunate to have booked a private tour in advance, since the queue to purchase tickets snaked around the block.
If you have had the good fortune to visit the Sistine Chapel you will remember the experience of moving along with the throngs of people through the Vatican, crowding into the chapel and tilting your head upward to stare at the panels on the ceiling some 68 feet off the ground. Your visit was timed and there were no photos allowed. The experience was tantalizing; we could admire the art, but not truly appreciate it. Although I am grateful for the experience, I left the chapel unsatiated.
Imagine being able to take in Michelangelo’s masterpieces in a more leisurely and intimate way? Allow your interest to guide what you looked at and for how long. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to converse about the art with your companions and take photos? I was fortunate to have an opportunity to revisit some of the pieces at the Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exhibit at the Westfield World Trade Center in the Oculus.
The exhibit offers the opportunity to view 34 selected panels up close and upright. The panels are impressively reproduced through photographs by Erich Lessing. While some might balk at viewing reproductions, for others it is the only chance to see the masterpieces up close. It makes the art more accessible, not just for those for whom a trip to Italy might be prohibitive due to money or mobility, but for those whose visit to the chapel only whet their appetite for a longer, more intimate encounter.
Named for Pope Sixtus IV, the Sistine Chapel was built to serve as the Pope’s personal chapel. It is also the place where the College of Cardinals meet in conclave to elect new popes. The word conclave means with keys. The cardinals are locked in until they elect a pope. Today more than 5 million people visit the chapel each year. They come to view what is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Now,
Included in the exhibit are panels adorned with scenes from Genesis, as well as images of Sibyls, prophets, and the ancestors of Jesus. You can view such iconic works as The Creation of Adam, The Deluge, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the Delphic Sibyl. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and practiced painting frescoes, a techniques he was unfamiliar with. As he worked, he experimented with different techniques. Other artists of his day would come to admire and learn from him. His subjects show emotion and expression. His use of light and shadow add weight and dimension to his figures. Michelangelo worked for four years painting the ceiling. The task was so physically taxing that Michelangelo wrote a poem about it:
I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!
My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself.
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.
Because I’m stuck like this, my thoughts
are crazy, perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.
My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.
Clearly he suffered for his art. But I must disagree. Not only was he a painter, he was one of the most creative and influential artists in history.
Scott Sanders, Westfield’s Creative Head of Global Entertainment said, “We are thrilled to showcase this beautiful exhibit in our centers across the country and give viewers the chance to experience this artwork in an up close and intimate way.” I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity.
If you cannot visit the exhibit in New York, you can see it in when it travels to Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Chicago, Annapolis and Seattle.