Sistine Chapel ceiling at 500: The Vatican’s dilemma
Five hundred years after its completion, the Vatican has indicated for the first time that it might eventually need to consider limiting the number of visitors who are allowed to view the splendours of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo’s famous frescoes have been described as one of the world’s supreme sights.
In scene after scene, some of the Old Testament’s most powerful stories unfold.
And at the centre of this vast work is one of the best known images in Western art; the depiction of God reaching out to touch Adam into life.
But for some, the room has become a victim of its own fame and magnificence. They say it just attracts far too many tourists.
Twenty-thousand visitors pour through the Chapel’s doors every day; more than five million a year.
And the Italian literary critic, Pietro Citati, recently launched a searing attack on the Vatican authorities for allowing in such huge numbers.
Writing in the pages of Corriere della Sera newspaper he went as far as to describe the crowding on an average visit as an “unimaginable disaster”.
“In the universal confusion no-one saw anything,” he wrote.
And speaking to the BBC he reinforced his criticism.
“The Sistine Chapel was full of people – a huge crowd, packed tightly together… and they were all breathing! There was this dense ‘human-ness’! Human sweat. It was horrendous.”
Mr Citati said that this endless, rising, humid “wall of human breath” could be damaging for the priceless frescoes above.
Responding to this kind of criticism, the director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, acknowledged that there was a “serious problem”.
He said that the whole doctrine of the Catholic Church was set out in the images in the Sistine Chapel, and that he wanted everyone who visited to be able to appreciate that symbolic system.
But Mr Paolucci accepted that that was not easy to do when the room is packed.
“It becomes noisy, people are confused, bewildered – it’s hard to understand.” he said. “Too many people make it uncomfortable… and it also creates a problem for the conservation of the frescoes.”
Mr Paolucci said plans to improve the ventilation and counter the threat from humidity in the Chapel would be unveiled soon.
But he also said that, ultimately, steps might have to be taken to restrict the numbers allowed in.
“We may get to that point – if necessary – a so-called ‘limited number’ of visitors,” Mr Paolucci said.
“But so far we’ve tried to avoid this because the Sistine Chapel for those who visit the Vatican is not only a place of art but also a spiritual, religious place.” [More]