Tom Pearson likes to tell a story he heard about Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
In order to paint the ceiling of the chapel, Michelangelo spent five years on a scaffold lying on his back. He wouldn’t let anyone preview his work, including Pope Julius II. When the pope tried to sneak in, Michelangelo threw a shoe at him.
Pearson, CEO of the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, recounts this story because the center will be the exclusive host of the Florida exhibition of the traveling exhibit, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, from March 11 to April 24.
When he first learned about the exhibit, he immediately flew to Texas to see it firsthand, from setup to opening. The first canvas he saw was The Creation of Adam, in which the hand of God reached out to touch Adam.
“I was in awe,” remembers Pearson, who has visited the Sistine Chapel at least twice. “I could see all the detail in the brushstrokes, and noticed things I hadn’t noticed in my prior visits to the Sistine Chapel.”
“It opens opportunity for the community at large to come and see Michelangelo’s great masterpiece up close and personal,” says Pearson.
This traveling exhibition from Los Angeles-based SEE Attractions showcases the awe and wonder of one of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements. Other traveling exhibits by the same company include: Star Trek, King Tut, Titanic, Frida Kahlo, The Art of Banksy: Without Limits (now in Miami), The Museum of Failure and more.
With images they licensed from the art archive Bridgeman Images, 34 larger-than-life images of the frescoes from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are reproduced in near-original size, brought to life using a special printing technique that emulates the look and feel of the original paintings.
Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512, returning in 1535 to add The Last Judgment, which depicts more than 300 (mostly nude) figures surrounding the central figure of Christ and which covers the whole altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.
Erick Leong, senior producer of SEE Attractions, says the idea for the exhibit came when the CEO of SEE Attractions, Martin Biallas, visited the Sistine Chapel and felt as if he did not have nearly enough time to take in the art and the wonder of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
“He wanted people to be able to enjoy the artwork in a non-rushed, modern, convenient setting and be able to dive in more to the figures depicted and understand the full historical context of these images, which are biblical in nature,” Leong says.
“After all, art is timeless,” he says, “but can be ethereal; think about the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the treasures that were lost in that fire (in 2019). This art should be experienced by as many people as possible, and these days it’s not always easy to travel.”
Currently, the exhibit is in five cities in the United States, two in Europe, one in Canada, one in Australia and one in China.
Leong says visitors come from all ages and demographics. Many are art lovers, while some are more interested in history or the religious aspect of the frescoes. Some have gone to Rome to visit the Sistine Chapel, but come to the exhibit to see the figures up close and catch details they may not have noticed on a ceiling 60 feet above them. Others may not be able to travel to Rome and this offers an opportunity to see one of the world’s most important paintings from the Renaissance in person.
He notes that the exhibit is a chance for visitors to engage with the artwork in ways that were never before possible: seeing every detail, every brushstroke, and every color of the artist’s 34 frescoes, including The Creation of Adam, an iconic image illustrating the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God’s right arm is outstretched toward Adam, imparting the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam and the last panel in the exhibit, The Last Judgment.
Taking another four years to complete, The Last Judgment depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity and is accompanied by a video display explaining the historical and religious significance of the work.
Tickets are timed to limit the number of people in the exhibit at one time and each image is accompanied by informational signage in English and Spanish. For an extra charge, an audio guide is available offering more in-depth content.
Designed as a 360-degree experience, with a number of panels hanging overhead from the ceiling, simulating the feeling of being in the actual Sistine Chapel, Leong says, “When you see these images all around you, you are bowled over by the scale and immensity of them and the fact that they were all painted larger-than-life by one man.”
Pearson was last at the Sistine Chapel in Rome before the pandemic in 2018 and remembers trying to absorb all the work he was seeing.
“There is so much to take in,” he says. ”At the Armory Art Center, people will have a chance to really absorb the work, to examine each detail and to read about the significance of the work and put it in religious and historical context.”
“It’s an exciting event and we’re glad we can offer this experience to the community,” says Pearson, noting that by the end of January they had already sold 7,000 tickets.
If You Go
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel will be on display in Montgomery Hall and the Greenfield and East Galleries at the Armory Art Center, 811 Park Place, West Palm Beach, Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 11 through April 24.
Please refer to the website for the current Armory Art Center COVID-19 protocols.
Timed tickets may be purchased for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel at armoryart.org. Timed slots are available every 30 minutes. Visitors should allow one hour to see the full exhibit.
Tickets are $17.50-$21.50 general admission, children $13.50 to $15.90. Family bundle (two adults and minimum of two children) $15.30 to $18.50 per person.