Arts & Culture

Sistine Chapel goes from Rome to Tacoma in immersive exhibition

Sure, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing.

But when it comes to the Sistine Chapel there’s also the $1,000 airfare for a flight to Rome, pushy crowds and all that neck-craning to see Michelangelo’s 500-year-old masterpiece.

You can skip all that — except the neck craning — at “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel The Exhibition” now on view at the Tacoma Armory. The traveling show is produced by and was brought to Tacoma by the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.

The exhibit visually transports the viewer to the upper reaches of the Vatican City chapel’s by reproducing Michelangelo’s frescoes and paintings at near-life size. The 34 artworks, some 16 feet square, are hung in the same order they appear in the chapel.

Panels, in English and Spanish, explain the derivation of each scene. Graphics show where each artwork exists on the chapel’s ceiling and walls.

Visitors will find the historic armory dimly lit but punctuated by the brightly lit artwork. A classical oratorio soundtrack heightens the reverential mood of the exhibit.

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the chapel. He completed the bulk of the work from 1508-1512.

First up and hanging overhead is a drunken and nude Noah, mocked by his son. It’s the first panel that depicts the Book of Genesis from the Old Testament.

Further along is the fall of man and expulsion from paradise and then, arguably, one of the most well-know artworks in the Western world: The creation of Adam.

The frescoes on either side of the exhibit are presented as they are in the chapel. But, unlike the real thing, Tacoma viewers can get up close to the artwork. Details and subtleties are easier to see.

The prophet Isaiah seems annoyed that he had to pause his reading — his finger holding his place in a book — as he listens to a cherub deliver news.

David’s arm is caught is mid-swing as he prepares to sever the head of Goliath. The shepherd boy’s sling lies on the ground before the giant. It’s a detail the artist made prominent in his statue of David but could easily be missed in the painting seen from a distance.

An image of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” is part of the Sistine Chapel exhibition at the Tacoma Armory. Joshua Bessex

At the far end is the Last Judgment. Two versions are presented, back to back. In the Sistine Chapel, the piece rises above the altar. Michelangelo painted it from 1536-1541.

The immense painting is a tour de force of Christian themes and startling imagery. It depicts the second coming of Christ and the final judgment. Souls ascend to heaven while devils hold down sinners.

Michelangelo painted many of the males in the Last Judgment with nude, muscular bodies. It was immediately controversial and, over the years, the figures were darkened and had clothes painted on them.

The two different versions show the painting before and after restoration of its vibrant imagery.

The Sistine Chapel show marks the first major exhibition by the Broadway Center at the armory since the building was bought and refurbished by Fred Roberson. The long-time developer has arranged to leave the armory to the Broadway Center after his death.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor


When: Noon-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 1-6:15 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays.

Where: Tacoma Armory, 1001 S. Yakima Ave.

Through: Oct. 14.

Tickets: $24 for timed 90-minute viewings. Broadway Center members, Groups 10+, and military: $15; students with ID: $12.


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