The Palais des congrès de Montréal is exhibiting Michelangelo’s work close enough for you to admire in a new way
Are you craving adventure, culture, and artwork? Any chance you have $1,000 saved up in that student piggy bank of yours? That’s about the amount of money an airplane ticket costs to fly to Rome, Italy. If you happen to have this pocket change jingling around in your jeans, then why not take the trip? This Roman holiday of yours will surely be filled with gelato, history, and cobblestone streets, but, no doubt, it will also include a visit to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s handiwork with your own eyes.
But for those of you with student loans, budgets, and a lack of dispensable time to allot to a Roman holiday—stop fretting. You too have the chance to see Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring craftsmanship up close. Right now at le Palais des congrès de Montréal, and until Oct. 12, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition is bringing all of the heavenly artistry—in more ways than one—to our city for you to admire.
The reproductions displayed were made from images captured by Erich Lessing right after the extensive restoration work that was conducted on the chapel in the 1980s and ‘90s.
The exhibit begins as you walk towards the first room clutching what seems to be a strange, thin, black remote. This is the object that will be the gateway for your ears to hear the extensive, informative audio tour awaiting you. A melodic sounding voice begins to speak as you hold the device against your ear—you’ve started a private tour where you set the pace and the amount of information you wish to ingest. You turn into the first room: a room with unfortunate-coloured backdrops, a single television looping a video, displays of written information, and images. This is merely the prologue—the setup, if you will—to inform you about whose work you’ll soon be greatly appreciating.
It is when you turn left, however, that you are blown away by the display space. Surrounding you, while black backdrops embody the darkness of a chapel, are 33 images. The metal supports and barriers in the room are reminiscent of the scaffolding used to paint a ceiling. This space makes up nearly the entire exhibit with images on all walls as well as on the ceiling at the centre of the room.
The audio guide tells you to begin the tour by walking through the Genesis cycle in the centre aisle of the space. For this portion, the first nine images, your sights are set to the heavens as each image is displayed above you. This gives you an idea of what it would be like to see the Sistine Chapel in the flesh—observation from below, a neck craned upwards. Reproductions are much more magnified to show you all the intricate, beautiful details of each image. After this central aisle, the exhibit-goer tours in a clockwise direction, observing on the walls the images of the prophets and Sybils, the lineage of Christ, and the corner paintings.
The ambience in the exhibit room is calming and meditative. Operatic voices and smooth, classical instruments serenade each observer as they peruse. Each individual is swept into their own world as their ears are connected to a wealth of knowledge, observation, and history. Consistent with a common church environment, the emphasis is on silent contemplation rather than rambunctious discussion. This is more than just an exhibit, it is an opportunity for a calm moment of appreciation—a chance to leisurely soak in the sophisticated artistry of a talented historical figure.
The audio guide provides information on who the images’ subjects are and what the historical context is, while also pointing out the technical details of composition, lighting, etc. Furthermore, the guide brings up which aspects or subjects of the image have much speculation and interpretation around them, as well as thoughts on motivations behind Michelangelo’s stylistic choices.
The speculation around these artistic, creative choices can enlighten you to the depth of meaning within the image, as well as Michelangelo’s character itself. For example, the audio accompaniment to image 21, “Judith and Holofernes,” states the following: “If we consider the severed head of Holofernes, we can see similarities with the physiognomy of Michelangelo himself. It is indeed a portrait of the artist. Michelangelo’s aim was to convey the immense sacrifice that painting the Sistine Chapel represented for him. He repeatedly stylized the task as martyrdom. He wrote in a letter to his father in 1509, ‘I am greatly afflicted and living in heavy physical privation, have no friends and want none.’”
After circulating the room, you turn to the left, leaving the main exhibit space. This is where you find the final piece displayed separately from the other 33 images. The voice in your ear informs you that “The Last Judgement” is located at the altar wall in the chapel and is made up of 390 separate characters. It was made from 1536-1541 over 25 years after the ceiling frescoes were finished. There’s no question why this piece has been allotted its own display area when you observe the immense amount of detail and content held within this single image. It is a fitting finale to the fragments of the exquisite masterpiece that you have just soaked in.
Simply appreciating the paintings from this close is, in itself, enough. Being able to see intricacies and effort put into just one small corner of an entire ceiling is enough to inspire awe. Each piece of the ceiling’s puzzle can stand as a meticulously crafted treasure in its own right. Whether you’re craving a taste of Italy, a dose of inspiration, or a quiet moment to appreciate the beauty that humans can produce, this exhibition is exactly what you need.
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition has been at the Palais des congrès since July 10 and will continue until Oct 12. The student price is $15.53.
*The Concordian was provided with false information regarding Susanne Koenig’s title, this information has been removed from this article. We regret the error.