Vatican City is lending MTL the Sistine Chapel

Main Exhibit Room: The start of your journey through the main exhibition space. Photo by Lydia Anderson.

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 start of your journey through the main exhibition space. Photo by Lydia Anderson.
Main Exhibit Room: The start of your journey through the main exhibition space. Photo by Lydia Anderson.

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 Prophet Ezekiel:” rich colour was revived with the restoration of the chapel. Photo by Lydia Anderson.
“The Prophet Ezekiel:” rich colour was revived with the restoration of the chapel. Photo by Lydia Anderson.

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.’”

“The Ancestors of Christ - Salmon:” Archways and framing were also captured in the reproduction. Photo by Lydia Anderson.
“The Ancestors of Christ – Salmon:” Archways and framing were also captured in the reproduction. Photo by Lydia Anderson.

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.

1 comment

  1. Sorry, this article looks like a paid promotion to fill the “quiet”, empty rooms and has nothing to do with the show reality and goals.
    The producer has expected 100,000 visitors. Sure it is quit, because nobody wants to see it.

    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.

Comments are closed.

Related Posts