In 1508, Pope Julius II commissioned the already-renowned sculptor and painter Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni – known simply as Michelangelo – to paint the huge ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo and his assistants spent four years on scaffolding under the chapel’s vaulted ceiling to create an astounding Renaissance masterpiece that continues to gain admiration the world over some 500 years later.
And now, for the first time ever, that masterpiece is effectively going on tour – with high-resolution photographic reproductions of each of the world-famous frescoes on large-scale fabric canvases making their way through a select group of venues across Europe, offering the greatest ever accessibility to the Florentine master’s work. And Hull Minster will be one of them.
‘We’re the only venue in the UK, apart from Winchester, to have the exhibition,’ says Hull’s Interim Minister, Bishop Frank White. ‘We wanted to have something which would enable us to show one of the world’s greatest works of art in a place which is, itself, an architectural masterpiece. Hull Minster is a fabulous building, much loved by the local community, and often visited by people from around the world. This exhibition is a great opportunity to put a world-renowned artwork into a wonderfully appreciated and valued building.’
Officially licensed by the Vatican Museums, the Michelangelo: A Different View exhibition will allow visitors to view the details of the Florentine master’s elaborate paintings from a distance of only two metres, with some of the reproductions up to an area of six square metres in size. Also visiting cities such as Copenhagen, Prague and Amsterdam on its European tour, the exhibition will break down the spatial barriers that currently exist for visitors to the Sistine Chapel and, better yet, will be free to visit while in Hull.
‘One of the huge challenges around the world is that some of these great artistic items are actually quite difficult to see,’ reasons Frank. ‘For Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, for example, it’s expensive enough for people to travel to Rome. They then have to wait for a long time in queues, and when they do get in to see the art they don’t have long to appreciate it. And the sheer number of visitors alone doesn’t make it easy, especially for people with disabilities or learning challenges.
‘One of the things we wanted to do by hosting the exhibition was to try and provide visitors in Hull with a real opportunity to appreciate what is truly wonderful art, in an environment closer to home. We’re especially conscious on making the exhibition as accessible as possible, so we’ll be providing some protected spaces and some quieter periods that will be allocated to groups with additional needs. All of our visitors will have a chance to go through the exhibition at much greater leisure than in the Sistine Chapel, and be able to stop and look at each of the paintings as they wish, and most of the exhibition will be on flat access.’
To create the exhibition, photographs taken of the frescoes in the 1990s (during their grand restoration) were transferred onto special fabric webs to create highly-detailed display panels. This technique allows for a true-to-life reproduction of the paintings, giving visitors an otherwise-impossible close up of Michelangelo’s brushwork in the magnificent frescoes.
Originally only commissioned to paint the 12 apostles, Michelangelo persuaded Pope Julius II to let him depict scenes and individuals of his own choosing. Consequently, the Sistine Chapel is peopled with more than 300 characters from the Bible, a complex myriad of colour and artistry that includes one of the most famous paintings of all time: the Creation of Adam, a depiction of God giving life to man.
Unlike the original collection, however – which majestically spans some 22 metres above visitors’ heads – the reproductions which will be displayed in the 700-year-old Minster will be separated into a series of more than 50 panels that follow a chronological route through the cathedral’s cavernous space, granting visitors both the time and the proximity to fully appreciate the detail in the paintings.
‘Visitors will be welcomed in through the west door, and there will be a route for them to follow that will culminate at the High Altar with a huge six-metre fabric representation of the piece that is actually at the High Altar of the Sistine Chapel – the great Last Judgement scene,’ explains Frank.
Faced by the unique challenge presented by the Sistine Chapel’s architecture, Michelangelo developed unique painting techniques to complete his masterpiece, setting new standards for future generations of artists across the world. And now officials at Hull Minster will be hoping the Florentine master’s work will involve the entire local community, inspiring even more art lovers right here in Yorkshire through an extensive programme of supporting events and family-friendly activities across the exhibition’s six-week residency.
‘The Minster is right at the heart of the city, and it feels appropriate for this exhibition to be held within a church that is actually older than the art in the Sistine Chapel,’ says Frank. ‘Our volunteers will play a huge part in this for us – and we’re still looking for people who have rather more specialised experience with, or training in, art who are willing to volunteer their time to help interpret the paintings for our visitors, especially when we’re having particularly focused visits from schools and young families, people who have learning challenges, or art and photography groups.
‘One of the most extraordinary things about the Sistine Chapel is that it depicts the story of human life in relationship with God from the very beginning to the very end – from the creation of Adam to the Last Judgement. We think it’s important to have a way of interpreting that in the 21st century, so we’ll be working hard through various means to be able to explain some aspects of the pictures to help those visitors who might not be quite so familiar with the Bible to understand what is being shown, and to try and encourage them to think about those scenes in relation to their lives today. We’ll have accompanying podcasts and social media posts alongside the exhibition, so there’ll be an opportunity for people to hear more about a particular figure in one of the pictures, or one of the scenes being depicted. We hope that part of the outcome of that will be that people will think faith is something that may be important to them on their own journey. But that is not to say we only want Christian visitors – everyone is welcome here.’
Michelangelo: A Different View will be exhibited at Hull Minster from 8th October to 18th November. For more information, visit www.hullminster.org