The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is home to one of the greatest artistic achievements in history. It was there in the 16th century that Michelangelo created 33 glorious religious frescoes on the ceiling. The Italian artist also painted The last judgment on the altar wall depicting the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
These spectacular works of art have attracted millions of viewers over the centuries and have been the subject of countless books, films, essays and art history classes. But when Martin Biallas, CEO of See Attractions Special Entertainment Events, paid a visit 10 years ago, he came away a little disappointed. And that was not just because of the long lineups.
“Once inside, you have 2,000 people screaming and shouting,” Biallas said. Just by phone from Los Angeles. “You have these huge pieces – 60 feet high – and you can not take pictures. They are very militant around it. So after 15 minutes you have to leave.”
He stressed that people should still see Michelangelo’s original frescoes because they are so magnificent. But he believed that if his company could obtain the licensing rights, it could recreate all 34 masterpieces in their original size.
This would allow people to see them up close in a casual way without security guards ordering them to put their cameras away.
On November 19, Biallass’s company opened a show at the Vancouver Convention Center East, offering this option. It is called Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition and offers high-resolution images of the 34 paintings created almost five centuries ago.
“We actually had the world premiere six years ago, in 2015, at the Palais des congrès in Montreal,” Biallas said.
Since then, this exhibition has toured the world, from Vienna to New York to Brisbane to Shanghai.
It has been shown in three other Chinese cities with the next stop planned in Beijing. According to Biallas, this was the first religious exhibition ever allowed in Communist China.
The company hopes to take photos from the Sistine Chapel to 30 Canadian cities.
“It costs a small amount to set it up,” Biallas said, “but it looks like a million dollars.”
In the future, See Attractions plans to create a digital experience with art created by French painter Claude Monet and an exhibition called The Treasures of the Louvre.
“I’m sure we’ll be coming to Vancouver at some point with them,” he said.
Biallas is used to putting on large themed exhibitions. His Los Angeles-based production company has already created Star Trek: The Tour, Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures, The Titanic Official Movie Tour, the complete Frida Kahlo exhibition, The Art of Banksy: Without Limits and the Museum of Failure.
According to Biallas, it took several years to get the license rights from the Vatican for pictures of Michelangelo’s frescoes.
“You would send an email and you would wait six weeks,” he said, “and you would get a reply in the mail with a large Vatican seal.”
The return address made an impression on his postman.
“I thought he was going to have a heart attack,” Biallas said. “He thought it was from the Pope.”
Eventually, See Attractions ended up negotiating with Bridgeman Images, which represents the Vatican.
“That’s basically how we got this,” Biallas said. “In fact, we’ve just renewed the license for another five years.”