The Sistine Chapel in 3D? The Vatican must think we are all idiots
Source:The Guardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2014-10-31 Size:
3D ‘experiences’ cannot replace seeing Michelangelo’s wonderful art in the flesh. Does Italy just hate tourists?

The Sistine Chapel with a new LED lighting display in Vatican City, 29 October 2014.

Virtual con … the Sistine Chapel with a new LED lighting display, 29 October 2014.

Does the Vatican think everyone who visits the Sistine Chapel is an idiot?

New arrangements to see Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Vatican seem to view “tourists” as the enemy, to be fobbed off with 3D spectacles and virtual reality while perhaps being allowed to spend only a limited time looking up at Michelangelo’s real paintings. Yet meanwhile, the pope is allowing the chapel to be used for corporate events.

All this reminds me of the time I needed to see a Michelangelo drawing in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the Uffizi in Florence. Despite bringing the required references, I was repeatedly fobbed off with reproductions, until I made it clear I would not leave without being shown the real, actual, wondrous thing.

Centuries of tourism have, I think, bred a particular snobbishness in Italy about the nation’s cultural heritage. There is, perhaps, a level of art historical insiderdom where you would be able to see the special stuff and would not be treated like an idiot – though I’ve no idea how you convince Italy’s art institutions you are seriously interested, rather than just gawping.

When I visit the Vatican museums it is as a tourist. I love being part of the tide of humanity that visits Rome. We are all pilgrims there. But many of us come for art, not God. It’s at once a challenge and a thrill to join the queues for the museums, then explore epic corridors and galleries full of antiquities until you reach your ultimate goal, the Sistine Chapel.

Why is the Vatican seeking to wreck this time-honoured experience? The director of the Vatican museums says it cannot handle any more visitors than it currently gets. If numbers go up, it will introduce visitor restrictions. It sounds like he hates us. Meanwhile, presumably to satiate our dead-eyed idiocy, the Vatican is offering digital substitutes for the real deal. Visitors will shortly be able to borrow “special, disposable ‘intelligent glasses’ similar to Google Glass that will enable them to explore the Sistine in 3D”. Meanwhile a new, official film event in British cinemas is to offer 3D virtual visits to the Vatican without even having to go to Italy. It’s like an attempt to see us off before we even reach the airport.

A view of Michelangelo's frescoe The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel with a new LED lighting display in Vatican City, 29 October 2014.

Michelangelo’s frescoe The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel with a new LED lighting.

Don’t fall for this virtual con. There is no substitute for seeing the works of Michelangelo for real. In fact, he is one artist who totally defies reproduction. His art has a dynamic, living quality that can only be experienced in its presence. Sadly here in Britain we only have one great Michelangelo sculpture, a circular marble relief that is on permanent display at the Royal Academy.

To see Michelangelo’s statues and frescoes, Britons have to travel. In Rome, not only his works in the Vatican but his statue of Moses andRisen Christ command awed attention. His genius haunts this city.

Does the Vatican really want to stop us engaging with such great art? Its policy seems contradictory and hypocritical. The new 3D film it has sanctioned is surely not going to discourage anyone from going there. Obviously, quite the opposite; it will send even more visitors to see the Vatican for themselves. The Vatican museums are stoking up the very traffic they affect to abhor.

They have also installed a state-of-the art lighting system. Why? This in itself is a kind of virtuality – and can only encourage an unthinking, lazy attitude to the art on the ceiling. In fact, the Sistine Chapel was designed to be seen by the light falling through the windows, or at most by candlelight from far below the ceiling.

The best way to see it, by far, is by natural light. I have seen it like that and it serves Michelangelo best. Contrived lighting can only falsify his intentions.

So here’s my suggestion. Don’t make grim pronouncements against us tourists. Just remove false lighting from the Sistine Chapel and show the frescoes purely by natural light.

There may of course be people who don’t want to look at old paintings in varying sunlight and gloom. They may record that disappointment on Tripadvisor. Some similar-minded people might even stay away because it’s so “dark”. But they are precisely the kinds of unthinking visitors the Vatican despises, right? So stop pandering to modern laziness while insulting those of us who are both tourists and sincere lovers of art.

[Editor] 刘建兰