When I was in Rome a few years ago two things were at the top of my “must see” list. One was the Galleria Borghese and its wonderful collection (see my posts on Titian and Bernini), the other was the Vatican Museum and, in particular, the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s stunning frescos.
Following the advice of a guidebook we arrived at the Vatican early and worked through the museum quickly, not pausing to linger over the other works (not easy to do), and got to the chapel before it filled up with its usual shoulder to shoulder carpet of bent neck tourists. By being among the first to arrive in the chapel we were able to walk around the space freely, viewing perhaps the most astonishingly adorned interior space in the world at our leisure.
(We then got back in line and went through the museum again, a process with which my companions were less than pleased. The museum is arranged in a kind of single file, one way march through the rooms, almost like a Disney attraction, and is not conducive to wandering freely.)
Even viewing the Sistine Chapel without the crowds has its limitations, though; the bent-neck viewing angle is only comfortable for a short time, and management doesn’t encourage you to bring in chaise lounges and binoculars.
For the next best thing to that experience, you can visit the Vatican’s “Virtual Visit of the Sistine Chapel“, a VR interactive that drops you into the middle of the chapel (empty of visitors), and allows you to pan around, and of course up, thorugh the entire space, and zoom in on any section.
While this may not be the best way to view individual elements (for that, visit the Web Gallery of Art, and their section on the ceiling frescoes), it’s a fascinating way to get a feeling for the space and the relative size of the images on the ceiling and walls.
As I did when actually there, I focused on the prophets and sibyls, which I think are some of the most beautiful of Michelangelo’s painted figures; in particular the Libyan Sibyl, above, for which his preparatory drawings are absolutely beautiful, and among my favorites in the history of art.
When viewing the panorama (which is in Flash), you may find it helpful to try the two different modes of motion provided by the “Change Mouse Mode” Button (the “M” next to the plus and minus at lower left).
Unfortunately, I found the rest of the Sistine Chapel section of the Vatican Museum’s online collections less rewarding, and difficult to navigate (despite the hand of God pointing to the top level navigation elements).
[Via Jason Kottke]