Touch the hand of God | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City

  • See Global Entertainment/Bridgeman Images
  • “The Creation of Adam” in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: the exhibition

It is often true that an artistic experience is also a spiritual experience. However, not all exhibits allow you to touch the hand of God.

On April 29, See Global Entertainment’s traveling exhibition Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel open at The Gateway. The tour experience features life-size reproductions of the 34 frescoes painted on the ceiling and wall of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Buanarroti from 1508-1512 and 1536-1541. A 20-minute introductory video also provides historical context regarding Michelangelo’s creative process and fun anecdotes involving Michelangelo’s patron, Pope Julius II.

According to See Global spokesman Kevin Olson, the exhibit originated when the company’s CEO, Martin Biallas, took a trip to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel a decade ago and found the experience disappointing. . “You have to wait in line for a few hours,” Olson says, “and then you’re ushered into an organized group for about 15 minutes, and you can’t take pictures. He found it to be very impersonal.”

In response, Biallas began the process to find out if he could secure the rights to a tour that would bring visitors into a closer and personal experience with the works, even if it required a short detour. “We ended up going through Bridgeman Images, because the Vatican, that process was taking forever,” says Sylvia Noland, director of business development at See Global. “Bridgeman said, ‘We have the images from the Vatican.’ We therefore make our licenses with them for the use of these.”

What started as a single touring show seven years ago has since grown into 10 separate full shows that are touring at all times, five in the US and five internationally. Each exhibit space requires at least 10,000 square feet, but due to the unique dimensions of any individual exhibit space, the visitor experience can be significantly different from city to city.

According to Noland, the space available at The Gateway offers visitors a particularly attractive way to experience the work. “Each turn you see something new. Here you see the prophets, then you turn and see the ancestors of Christ, then another turn, and you see Genesis [section]then you turn around and see ‘The Last Judgment.'”

The experience of walking through the exhibit provides an incredible opportunity to learn more about this famous work beyond the best-known image of God creating Adam through barely separated fingers. An audio component allows for detailed historical perspectives on each room, including possible reasons for their positions in the ceiling ensemble, such as the prophet Zechariah being immediately above the entrance to the chapel, possibly related to his vision of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. And there are wonderful details that bring the works to life in a more personal way.

“In ‘The Last Judgment,'” Olson notes, “Michelangelo actually depicted and painted himself as one of many characters in the Last Judgment. He didn’t believe he was worthy to ascend to heaven, so he painted himself in a position looking up and hoping for mercy, so he could get redemption.”

Yet it is not surprising that the main draw of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is “The Creation of Adam,” that iconic image of a soaring, soaring God leaning toward the first reclining man. It’s so appealing, in fact, that it requires a specific change in the way images are presented. While most of the frescoes line the walls of the exhibition, those of the Genesis cycle are usually suspended from the ceiling, allowing an approximation of the visitor experience at the Sistine Chapel.

“The Creation of Adam”, however, is an exception, placed at the level of the feet. And the reason, says Noland, is to really emphasize that intimate, personal experience that Biallas was looking for.

“Because everyone wants to touch God’s finger on a picture, you can’t do it on the ceiling,” Noland says with a laugh, “so we have to keep it low.”

This kind of opportunity – different from being in the presence of the original in such a condensed way in time – is what the exhibition was designed to facilitate. “It’s fascinating to go and see these [images at the exhibition], because they look like a postage stamp when you look at the Vatican,” says Noland. “They seem so small. That way you can see… the cracks in the plaster. You can see every brushstroke.”


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