This month found us traveling to Dayton to see the Sistine Chapel Exhibition. I was quite excited about this since I don’t know that we will ever travel to Vatican City to see the real thing. The advertising photos of the exhibit were amazing – darkened hallways full of perfectly hung and lit artwork. It looked very dramatic and like an almost intimate exhibit with a clear direction and lots of space.
Well, as we all know, looks can be very deceiving. I am sure that this art was hung somewhere like the pictures in the past, but for this exhibition, it was tilted against walls that were not really tall enough, so it all leaned away from you. It was bottom lit in a very bright, open room, so it really lost all of the ambience I was expecting. It was also difficult to navigate as there wasn’t a clear path, so people were going all directions. There was also an audio tour you could listen to, either on listening devices they provided or on your phone. The listening devices were not distracting – they were quiet and people held them to their ears to hear. The phones were very loud and definitely made it difficult to read or really get lost in the artwork.
In spite of the chaotic atmosphere, I was eventually able to “settle in” to the experience and really focus on the art. It was amazing to see up close – a very different view than you would ever get in person. You could see the expressions and light and shadows and movement in the paintings so well. It was all out of order, but of course the first thing was The Creation of Adam. There were also many other Old Testament stories in a sort of side passageway – these were the most dramatically lit, were actually mounted fully upright, and also felt the most secluded for viewing.
The bulk of the rest of the paintings fell into 3 categories – Prophet portraits, Sibyl portraits, and The Lineage of Christ family tableaus. The prophets and Sibyls were all people that had foretold part of the story of Christ, and they were all pictured with 2 messengers of God who seemed to be delivering inspiration or information. The lineage of Christ family tableaus showed ancestors of Christ as children with their fathers and mothers to evoke the holy family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I thought these paintings suffered a little from the fact that they were leaned away from us – it would have been pretty amazing had they seemed to be looking down at us instead of fading away. We did think the implied movement and light in these paintings was really breathtaking. Here are a few favorites.
In the middle of the large room of artwork, there was a large reproduction of The Last Judgement. This is a very symbolic and interesting piece that I could have sat and looked at for a long time. I was also one of the youngest in the room, so the benches were not for me. Nevertheless, we did stand and ponder it for quite a while. It contains 390 separate characters, including Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, saints, martyrs, angels, chosen ones headed towards heavenly bliss, and sinners headed towards eternal damnation. I did not get a good angle to get a full shot, but here are some closer photos of the figures. I find St. Bartholemew (who was martyred by being flayed and is pictured below Christ and to the right just a bit) pretty disturbing with his empty meat suit…
All in all, we walked out pretty happy that we had seen the art, but not fully pleased with how it was presented. We give it 3 out of 5 stars and have found that we hope to see the real thing someday if possible.
Have you been to any excellent art exhibits lately? Did you see the Sistene Chapel Exhibition? Or the real thing in Vatican City? Let me know in the comments!