Viva Sistina?

TheCreationOf Adam

In a mall in New Jersey, the Benjamin-ian aura of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel has been nuked.

But there is hope.

Let’s deal with the nuking first.

Anyone who has visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome has undoubtedly endured a long line to enter, countless tourists, a sore neck, dizziness and maybe even Stendhal’s syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florencesyndrome, which is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.

I don’t think the exhibition entitled “UP CLOSE Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” mounted by Westfield in a large tent near the Garden State Plaza Mall will cause Stendahl’s, though Hub and I made it a priority to see it upon learning of it.

The staff couldn’t have been nicer and they serve various Italian wines, mineral water and Peroni beer in the exhibition space (sweet!) But the organizers, focusing on what they describe as the “stories”, mounted everything vertically, and while the thrust of the exhibition is to get “UP CLOSE” while learning the biblical origins of the ceiling’s “stories” the lack of use of the ceiling and heavy pixelation were disappointing and somewhat distracting. It is a CEILING after all. There were also no notes on technique, brush stroke, pigment or the mind-bending foreshortening Michelangelo employed so that the Sibyls and God jut out of the ceiling plane and come at the viewer below in a 3D way–just descriptions that read more like a “Who’s Who in the Sistine”.


So the Sistine’s aura has taken a hit but is likely in tact in Rome where Michelangelo painted on scaffolding on his back while fighting with the Pope (see the film of Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy” with Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison) and the frescoes abandoned to years of wax/smoke residue until they were restored recently.



GodSeparates WaterFromThe Heavens


While the intentions are good, and the exhibition is a nod to a place people may not have a chance to see in person, the exhibition guide further complicates the trouble in aura land such endeavors create when it states: “UP CLOSE is organized so guests can fully comprehend the complex stories of Michelangelo’s work with maximum context.” Hmmm…well at least you can have a glass of wine and buy some coasters if you cannot travel to Rome! For us, on an autumn eve out with our teen, it was a diversionary substitute of sorts which will be coming to a mall near you.


photos: The Creation of Adam (detail), The Libyan Sibyl, God Separates Water from the Heavens by C. McDonough and the UP CLOSE exhibition space by B. McDonough



4 thoughts on “Viva Sistina?”

  1. I love it…. great post, Carrie! When I visited Rome, the Sistine Chapel was under restoration and closed…. Such a sad moment for me! This exhibit just may hold me over until I return to Italy. I CANnot believe Stendhal’s syndrome is a real disorder…. or psychosomatic disorder. Ha! I guess this is what I once experienced visiting a Da Vinci exhibit. Didn’t know what came over me, and now I know there is a name for it! I’ll have to tell you about it some day.

    Thanks for a great culture fix this evening!

    xo Calee

    1. Thank you, Calee, for this kind comment and sharing this GREAT anecdote! It is sad when the wiles of Italy (restoration, strikes, holidays, or just the whim of the government) close an artwork or site. I’ve been shut out of the Pantheon twice and live with beautiful photos my hub took of it before we met—aaahh! So the only solution is to go back to Rome 🙂 Yes, it appears Stendhal’s is recognized as a disorder. I first became aware of it in 1988 when I was working for Rizzoli as Editorial Assistant to the US Correspondent for L’Europeo magazine and it came “across the wires” as we used to say. As I read the newswire I recall making the same connection you did when I experienced certain works of art. I gotta believe Stendhal’s is the Benjamin-ian aura at play. I’d love to hear your da Vinci story and thanks again for such a germain contribution! 🙂 Carrie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s