Tag Archives: Google Art Project

Drunken tourist herds at the Sistine Chapel


Vatican museum

Vatican Museum

The New Year will mark the anniversary of Michelangelo’s completion of the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel.  The Vatican worries about the future of these frescoes, and may restrict visitor numbers, citing safety and preservation of the art their paramount motivators.

Time will tell how the custodians of these great works will employ technology to keep the Sistine Chapel works viable to future generations.  It is a shame that art such as this will be viewed by fewer individuals, ones that will be vacuumed and cooled according to the Vatican, but preservation of these masterpieces is the critical factor in such decisions.  A bit of online debate has gone to greater lengths at The Guardian regarding how the Vatican has treated the frescoes over their 500 year history, referring to visitors as “drunken tourist herds.”


Drunken tourist herds?

According to the director of Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, 20,000 visitors a day has produced “dust, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide, the great enemies of these paintings.”

The Chapel features 300 figures painted across 2,500 square meters by artists including Botticelli, Perugino and Pinturicchio as well as Michelangelo.  I cannot imagine viewing these beautiful works while being jostled by crowds pushing through the room.  The sheer number of visitors is criticized for giving the space the feel of a busy train station.

One recent step forward is the virtual experience of the Sistine Chapel; a great view of the ceiling and surrounding walls.  Perhaps collaboration with the Google Art Project will propel this virtual site into the mega-pixel display that these frescoes deserve.

floor of the Sistine Chapel

Built in the 1470s under Pope Sixtus IV, from whom it takes its name, the Sistine Chapel is more than just Vatican City’s most popular tourist destination.  Beginning in 1492, the building has hosted numerous papal conclaves, during which cardinals gather to vote on a new pope.  A special chimney in the roof of the chapel broadcasts the conclave’s results, white smoke indicating the election of a pope and black smoke signaling that no candidate has received the two-thirds majority.

Michelangelo wanted nothing to do with the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling; he was busy working on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb in Rome’s San Pietro in Vincoli church.  When Julius asked the artist to switch gears and decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo balked; he considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter; he had no experience with frescoes.  He reluctantly accepted the commission as funding for the tomb dwindled, money being a great motivator, signing the contract on May 10, 1508.  The artist spent the next four years of his life perched on scaffolding with a brush in his hand.  He did return to Julius’ monumental tomb over the next decade.

Tomb of Pope Julius II

Tomb of Pope Julius II

The artist and his assistants used wooden scaffolds that allowed them to stand upright and reach above their heads.  Michelangelo designed the unique systems of platforms, and attached to the walls with brackets.  The legend that Michelangelo painted on his back may come from the 1965 movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, with Charlton Heston portraying the genius painting on his back.

Evidence of the scaffolding on the Lunette

Evidence of the scaffolding on the Lunette

Michelangelo described the physical strain of the Sistine Chapel project to his friend Giovanni da Pistoria, in a poem from 1509.  “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,” and “I am not in the right place-I am not a painter.”

Michelangelos depiction of work accompanying poem

Michelangelo’s depiction of work accompanying poem

The frescoed ceiling has held up remarkably well in the five centuries since completion.  Part of the sky in the panel depicting Noah’s escape from the great biblical flood is missing.  The section of plaster fell to the floor and shattered following an explosion at a nearby gunpowder depot in 1797.

Work in the 1980s and 1990s restored selected artworks in the Sistine Chapel, including the ceiling and Michelangelo’s famed fresco known as “The Last Judgement.”  The restoration also undid the work of Pope Pius IV, who ordered the placement of fig leaves and loincloths on Michelangelo’s nudes during the 1560s.

Creation of Adam

Creation of Adam

Rabbit-hole of research:

The New York Times archive contains an interesting article regarding the Spark of Life in Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam.”  Was the artist allegorically portraying the moment when God bestowed Adam with intelligence?  Read more to draw your own conclusions.

What are your views on the preservation of art?  Is the virtual museum experience a necessary step for museums?  I look forward to chatting with you.



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Tears Rendered in Silver and Gold

November 27, 2012

By Mary Jo Gibson

The Uffizi Gallery, that cradle of Florentine art in Italy, is home to the art collection of the Medici.  As titans of Renaissance patronage they have given commissions to such storied names as Titian, Botticelli, Tintoretto and Il Parmigianino.  The Medici dynasty originally built the Uffizi to house government offices and designed the top loggia as a picture gallery – a novel innovation at the time.  It is from that space, the galleria, that art galleries around the world take their name.  A chance to see this priceless art without visiting Italy is almost unimaginable; but on a cold autumn day with blustery winds blowing across the prairie, I made my way to Madison, Wisconsin, and the Chazen Museum to see “Offering of the Angels”, an exhibition from the Uffizi Gallery.

Chazen Museum of Art, tourism, art history, history, museum experience

Chazen Museum of Art November 2012

Chazen Museum, museum experience, tourism, art, history

Offering of the Angels

The Chazen offers the first visit to the United States for these works, rarely seen in public and selected for a special exhibition as a gift from the citizens of Florence.  The forty-three paintings and two tapestries span three centuries, from the late 14th to the early 18th.  The paintings were made for a wide range of purposes, from small works meant for private devotion in a home or palace, to large altar pieces made for a chapel.  “Offering of the Angels” includes two 16th century tapestries designed from cartoons by Francesco De’Rossi, known as Il Salviati (Florence 1510 – Rome, 1563).   Close to seven feet wide, the tapestries depict Christ’s descent from the cross and the Resurrection.

Chazen Museum, museum expereince, art, history

Deposition From the Cross

The tapestries on view are something of a rarity.  They don’t travel well because of their weight and fragility, making them a challenge to transport.  The ‘Deposition from the Cross’, produced in Florence around 1546, is surprisingly detailed.  Christ’s mother, Mary, Mary Magadalene and Joseph of Arimathea are shown with Christ’s body.  Tears are rendered in the tapestry with silver and gold thread.

In the early 16th century, Flanders was the center of tapestry production.  The Medici wanted Florence to be equally well known for this art and commissioned cartoons from celebrated Florentine artists.  Two Flemish tapestry experts were hired and the results are nothing less than spectacular.

Chazen Museum, museum experience, art, history

The Resurrection 1546-1549

The first painting in the exhibition, “The Miracle of the Manna”, by Fabrizio Boschi, commands immediate attention due to its epic size.  Depicting manna falling from the sky, with biblical and secular figures; the participants show the continual overlap of time, centuries apart, showcasing this enduring story.

Chazen Museum, museum experience, art, history

Miracle of the Manna, Fabrizio Boschi, 1594-1597

“Pieta with Saints John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria”, by Il Cappuccino Veronese, imagines St. Catherine at the crucifixion.  The painting was commissioned by Caterina de Medici, her namesake being Catherine of Alexandria, the Saint.  The community surrounding these paintings becomes an integral part of the art, in depiction as well as creation.

Chazen Museum, museum experience, art, history

Pieta with Saints John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria, Il Cappuccino Veronese, 1621

These works may long be established as treasures, but the truth of the matter is that they are continually evolving.  Titian’s Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine contrasts with photographic stages of the restoration process.  The removal of varnish allows the colors to appear with the richness and depth the artist intended.

Chazen Museum, museum experience, art, history

Workshop of Tiziano Vecellio,Titian, 1490-1576 Madonna and Child with St Catherine of Alexandria, 1550-1560

The most recognized painting in the Offering of the Angels is Botticelli’s Madonna and Child, or Madonna of the Loggia.  Having undergone multiple restorations, the only parts of the painting that are considered original are the red gown of the Virgin and the distant landscape.  One restoration was so disastrous that the faces were repainted entirely.  A prize of the Uffizi gallery, the painting has never been permanently finished, and looks entirely different now than in the 16th century.

Chazen Museum, art, history, museum experience

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna with Child, 1466

The Chazen Museum is one of the best kept secrets of the Midwest’s art institutions.  Their permanent collection of Renaissance art boasts a huge altar painting by Vasari, “Adoration of the Shepherds”, among other religious art and sculpture.  Well worth the trip on a cold autumn day, I expect many more visits in the future as the Chazen continues to showcase new exhibitions, the “Golden Age of English Watercolors” being the latest arrival.  Visual arts enrich the human experience and the knowledge of art is essential to understanding diverse cultures past and present.  This glimpse into the riches of the Medici certainly underscores that enrichment.

Chazen Museum, art, history, museum experience

The Original Sin, Florentine Painter from the 16th century

Chazen Museum, museum experience, art, history

The Last Supper, Luca Signorelli, 1523

Chazen Museum, museum experience, art, history

Francesco Mazzola, Il Parmigianino, Madonna with Child, 1525

Chazen Museum, art, history, museum experience

Alessandro Tiarini, Nativity of Jesus, 17th century oil on copper

Chazen Museum, art, history, museum experience
Alessandro Allori, Madonna with the Symbols of the Passion of the Christ, 1581

Want more from the Uffizi Gallery?  They are part of the Google Art Project, and have an app for the iPad.

A great post by Hyperallergic on the Secret Life of Paintings reviews this exhibition while at the James A. Michener Art Museum, comparing some great writings of Machiavelli with the art, and the times.

Thank you joining me for “Offering of the Angels”, I look forward to chatting with you about this and future museum events.


Mary Jo

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