a, Art, Arts & Entertainment

Take me to church: Sistine Chapel comes to Montreal

Few works are as universally recognized or as globally revered as Michelangelo’s masterful works in the Sistine Chapel. Created in the early 16th century, these works depict scenes from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, biblical prophets, and the ancestors of Jesus. Among its most recognizable images are the Great Flood, the battle between David and Goliath, and the iconic Creation of Adam. For devout Christians, historians, and art critics alike, the Sistine Chapel is a place to revel in the glory of both. And now it’s here in Montreal.

Entering the exhibit is a perfect escape. Despite other viewers drifting through the room, it is near silent apart for the faint background of choral music, lending itself to the ambience. The audio tour is succinct, informative, and given in a relaxed and soothing voice. Viewers are guided through the exhibit viewing the paintings in the order they were intended, in the same layout as they are presented on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, so that visitors may truly appreciate the stories the images tell. Both the Biblical inspiration and the histories of the paintings themselves are told through the audio player, providing patrons with a rich background. Far from a dull lecture, the narration provides succinct versions of age-old stories, historical context, amusing anecdotes, and insight into the artist’s psyche.

The images of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling have been captured with state-of-the-art photography taken by the world-renowned Erich Lessing, and are currently on display at the Palais des Congrès. Taken just after a recent restoration, the reproductions portray the paintings in vibrant colour and precise detail. All 33 ceiling frescoes have been reproduced in life-size, along with a scaled-down reproduction of The Last Judgment, which depicts the second coming of Christ and the separation of the chosen and the damned.

The black, steely, industrial surroundings can’t possibly compare to being physically present in the Sistine Chapel itself. Particularly for the frescoes originally painted in the corners or on curved portions of the chapel’s ceiling, it’s harder to appreciate their true genius when they must be viewed two dimensionally rather than on the special surfaces for which their geometry was constructed.

These minor details are a small price to pay for the chance to see the finer aspects of the paintings in a way that’s impossible to experience outside of Vatican City. In the chapel itself, the paintings can only be viewed from a distance, but in the exhibit, they’re 10 feet away. It allows viewers to get up close and personal with the old masterpieces, to examine the expressions on the faces of the prophets, and to marvel at the play of light on folds of silken robes. Being so close to the works creates an intimate experience with the subjects of the paintings, as the viewer is finally able to see every detail and brushstroke. 

While it’s not exactly like being in the Vatican, it’s a comparable experience. The reproductions are beautiful, the guided tour is enlightening, and the images are overwhelming and awe-inspiring. The biggest drawback is craning your neck to see the works hung from the ceiling—just like the real experience.

Michealangelo’s Sistene Chapel: The Exhibition will be at Espace 1001 (1001 Jean-Paul Riopelle Place) until Oct. 12. Tickets are between $12 and $19.50.

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  1. Benjamin Novak

    This exhibit is an example of how a technically good idea – to make works of art accessible to larger audiences – has turned out into a total failure.


    First: the producer lied from the start creating fake quotes and endorsement from a German professor who does not exist.

    Then Martin Biallas stated that the measures of the photos are the same as the originals “to the inch” and “we did not change anything”. There is ample evidence now that none of the photo has the same size as the originals in the Vatican. Some reproductions have been enlarged by a factor of 1:3, the Last Judgement is smaller than the original by one quarter. By enlarging the photos, the brush strokes have been enlarged so that it looks as Michelangelo had painted with a broom, not with a brush.

    More lies: “all the photos are after the restoration”, not true: a large number of photos are dark and before the restoration.

    Lies about the provenience of the photos: 2/3 of the photos are from the Archives of Erich Lessing, but were not taken by Erich Lessing, the provenience of the rest is unknown.

    Moreover some photos have been photoshopped and frames have been included which Michelangelo never painted.

    This exhibit has been put together in a hurry and without any fine art expert support or know-how … and it shows.

    In addition the exhibit is run in such an amateurish way which casts a doubt whether the producer has ever produced anything by himself.

    The audio guides do not work, pieces of paper with the photos descriptions are taped to the metal frames. The prices in the shop are handwritten, the Vita of Michelangelo is glued to a yellow bed sheet badly folded. School projects are more professional than this exhibit.

    The exhibit social media has been childish and ignorant. The PR has been deceitful and arrogant with statements such as: “Rome move over, Montreal is coming”, or “not even the Popes have seen it so close”.

    This is a deceptive and deceitful exhibit, put together quickly to make a quick buck and with no knowledge of the subject matter nor any respect for the visitors who are expected to pay over 20$ to see it.

    It is a failure because the world of art and the world of exhibitions are not for everybody and definitely not for amateurs, it is a failure because it has been criticized by some but mostly ignored by the majority of fine art experts and representatives of the Church.

    It is a failure because it has not passed the mother of all the tests: the acceptance of the people of Montreal. Biallas announced his expectations to have 100’000 visitors, anyone who has visited the exhibit – like me – has counted only few visitors who ventured into seeing it.

  2. Thomas Martell

    I am astonished that – after 2 months of exhibition and hundreds of negative comments from experts and visitors alike – the lies that have been the demise of this exhibitions are repeated in this article.
    By now, it is common knowledge that:
    1. the photos are NOT from Eric Lessing but from his archives,
    2. the photos are NOT all after the restoration. More than one third of the photos are BEFORE the restoration and it shows! Just look at the Last Judgement, it looks and hangs like a dirty shower curtain, Without even mentioning that NONE of the photos has the original size of the frescos in the Vatican.
    3. NOTHING in this exhibit remotely gives the feeling of being in the Vatican, the set up is like a construction site with metal scaffolds and pieces of information pasted to the metal.
    The people of Montreal and visitors have already given their judgement on this exhibit and it is a huge FAIL!
    This article is a last attempt to fool a few visitors more to visit it, fortunately the people of Montreal are smarter than this!

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