Home Arts & Leisure The height of great art: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel comes to Manila

The height of great art: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel comes to Manila

By Giselle P. Kasilag

IT IS THE most recognizable ceiling in the world. But among the millions of people who have stood inside the Sistine Chapel for centuries, possibly only a few thousands have seen the frescos of the legendary artist Michelangelo Buonarotti up close.

A traveling exhibit is changing that one city at a time.

“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” is in Manila until Sept. 30, giving Filipinos the opportunity to have a close encounter with the art often admired only from afar. The exhibition, on the second floor, North Wing of the Estancia Mall, Capitol Commons in Pasig City, features 34 life-sized images of the frescos including The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgement.

“My family and I actually chanced upon this exhibition in Vancouver, Canada in late 2021,” explained Sabrina Co, founder and creative director of ATIN Global, Inc. which brought the exhibit to the Manila. “And when we visited, we were so fascinated with the details of every fresco, and we learned so much from being able to listen to the audio guide. So, collectively, we thought this could be a really compelling experience and, I think, would be so relatable to Filipinos. From then we decided that we want to bring this to the Philippines, and we think that, on many levels, Filipinos can relate. So what I think would be, on the accessibility level, where not everyone has the opportunity to travel to the Vatican. And by it being here, we open up this opportunity for people to see one of the greatest artworks of all time.”

Indeed, it is accessibility which is at the heart of the creation of this exhibition in the first place. Martin Biallas, CEO of SEE Global, was among the millions who trekked to the Vatican to see the famous ceiling.

“This exhibit came about from a personal experience,” he admitted. “I was in Rome. I was meeting my friends and we said, well, let’s go to the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel. It was in the middle of the summer. It was pre-pandemic… long lines and by the time we got in, you have 15 minutes to get in and out. The ceiling — and the frescoes — were all the way up. I think there were about 2,000 people in a 1,000 square meter area. [There was] a lot of screaming and yelling that you cannot take any photos at all. They’re very strict about that. And then after 15 minutes you left. I understand, logistically, six million people come visit the Sistine Chapel every year. So that’s the only way that the Vatican can handle this. But as a personal experience, I didn’t have enough time to reflect and really appreciate what I was seeing.”

Walking out feeling frustrated, his first thought was how to get permission to reproduce the frescoes in their original size and create an exhibition where people can see the art up close. His company specializes in traveling exhibitions. They were behind the Star Trek, Titanic, Pokemon, and King Tut shows among many others. But for the Sistine Chapel, the goal was different. He wanted as many people as possible to see the art. The approach, therefore, was unlike what they had prepared in the past. It needed to be modular, sturdy, and be able to travel light.

The images, themselves, had their own set of challenges. Photographing the frescoes was tricky because the ceiling was curved. Simply taking a straightforward photo would result in the images looking anatomically disproportionate.

To make the frescoes come to life, the images needed to be printed on the right kind of material. Decotex from Germany proved to be the right choice as the material could carry the details of the images and create a magical experience for the viewers.

The very first show was held in 2015 at Montreal. Since then, it has been brought to multiple cities in Canada, the United States, Australia, South America, and even China. The Manila exhibition is the first in Southeast Asia.

“It looks beautiful, but people don’t realize that it comes in two big crates,” Mr. Biallas shared. “So, it’s very affordable for venues and promoters to do this, and this was important to me. Usually, we have to sell a hundred thousand tickets with our other shows just to pay for the shipping and loading and so forth. For Star Trek we had 37 containers. So, I wanted to have a design where it is affordable to bring it to people because it’s not only the Christian message that we have here, it’s also the artistry. So, I wanted to make sure I give this exhibition the biggest platform it can have in the world.”

Upon entering the venue, guests are led into a small corridor with a brief history of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo. Within the venue proper are the 34 panels, each of which is accompanied by a board on an easel. This contains a map of the ceiling that tells the viewers where this particular fresco is located, a brief background on the artwork, and a QR code that can be scanned using the exhibition app. From there, an audio guide provides a detailed explanation of the fresco. Visitors are encouraged to download the app and bring their headsets to fully enjoy the experience.

Ms. Co also explained that her company, whose primary business is scents, developed a fragrance that evokes the aromas of Rome at the time the frescoes were being painted. Marlon Chen, conductor and music director of The Manila Symphony Orchestra, chose the music being played in the venue, making the exhibit a multi-sensory experience.

But the exhibit is not just a showcase. It also lives by the Christian values that the frescoes espouse with part of the proceeds being donated to Globe’s The Hapag Movement and Philippine Red Cross’ National Blood Service Program.

“The Globe Group is wearing two hats,” said Yoly Crisanto chief sustainability and corporate communications officer. “We are both the beneficiary and, of course, a supporter of the exhibition. This, to me, is one of the best ways to enjoy this magnificent artwork. You’re going to see the details up close. For Globe Group, we are of the opinion that great art, especially this one, should be shared to all. Not all of us can afford to go to Rome. Our support is for great art to be shared but also as we talk about great art during the Renaissance period, we all know that there are people amongst us that are also going hungry. So, when you see hell, when you see purgatory in Michelangelo’s paintings, maybe you can imagine what kind of hell the people who are going hungry in the Philippines are actually experiencing. And that is why we partnered for this. We want to be able to put in the hearts of the appreciation of great art but also to use this exhibition as a way of helping our fellow kababayans.”

With the various advocacies converging through this exhibition, Ms. Co reiterated that “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” is not merely a show but a truly transformative experience that only truly great art can bring about.

Tickets are available at the exhibit or online via http://www.sistinechapelphilippines.com/. Prices are as follows: Adult (Weekday) — P650, Adult (Weekend) — P750, Senior/Student/PWD (only available over the counter) — P500, Group Ticket (6 pax) — P3,300; and VIP Priority (Skip the queue) — P950.

For further information, visit www.sistinechapelphilippines.com. For updates and announcements check Instagram and Tiktok @sistinechapelphilippines, as well as Facebook @chapelsistine.