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The Sistine Chapel comes to Manila

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 26, 2023 5:00 am Updated Mar 29, 2023 4:51 pm

Anyone who’s ever tried to take a crowded selfie with the “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre or struggled to sneak a shot inside the Sistine Chapel will love this exhibit.

Coming to Estancia Mall this July is the globally popular “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” which has been packing in viewers around the world since 2016. Soon, the Sistine Chapel will make a landing in Manila.

“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” offers a face-to-face encounter with the Italian artist’s crowning creation for the Vatican with 34 high-quality, actual-sized panels. Like lifting the frescoes off the ceiling of The Vatican, and bringing them down to eye level, you get a close-up look at every masterful brushstroke and contour of the Biblical panels that took four and a half years to execute. And yes: selfies are practically mandatory.

Experience the creation of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes at “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” coming to Estancia Mall in July.

The man behind this eye-popping exhibit is Martin Ballias of SEE Global.

“The appeal of this show is very simple,” he says on a Zoom call from LA. “We're basically allowing people to experience something that they just could not see or do otherwise.”

Not all Filipinos have a chance to visit The Vatican, but those who have may recall waiting in long lines in the heat, jostling with thousands of visitors, and not being able to take a single photo of the brilliant artworks perched 60 feet above them on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. “The guy worked almost five years on a scaffolding to paint this beautiful art—and they're all the way up above you, almost like a postage stamp,” notes Biallas. “And then 15 minutes later, you’ve gotta leave.”

Crowds worldwide have flocked to “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” since it opened in 2015. (Shown: exhibitions in Vienna, New York, Shanghai)

The Manila exhibit offers a very unique experience: “Obviously we can't peel the frescoes off the ceiling. But you see all of Michelangelo's works up close in the original size. That's something that no pope has ever seen from that perspective, because no pope ever climbed up on any scaffolding.”

You can stand with your nose one inch away from God creating Adam in the famous ceiling fresco from Book of Genesis.

There’s that famous central panel of “The Creation of Adam,” with God nearly touching the outstretched finger of Adam. In a sense, this exhibit allows you to experience that sense of creation yourself—nose-to-nose with the immense detail of Michelangelo’s artistic technique. 

The awesome “Last Judgment” mural, with over 400 figures, is reproduced to actual size.

To reproduce the enormous panels in such rich detail, Ballias relied on a German company using a crease-resistant, 195-grams-per-square-meter material called Decotex. “It gives the large prints the look and feel of a fresco—which is very different from an oil painting. It took about nine months to find, because everything else looked like a cheap copy. This gives it the depth, look, feel, and colors” of the originals.

Notably, these images are taken from the post-restoration Sistine Chapel ceiling, which required a special licensing agreement with The Vatican. “You can license the pre-restoration images for free, everywhere. But the Vatican really shut down on any photography and rights after the restoration.” So expect the clear, cleaned-up images of Michelangelo’s masterpiece—not sooty old images—when you take your selfies.

There will be selfie opportunities galore at “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” (unlike the strict no-camera policy of the actual Sistine Chapel).

The local venue is key: Estancia Mall near Ortigas Center was chosen for its large available space, and guests can expect to enter a series of corridors leading through the exhibit, which can take patrons as long as they like to enjoy up-close. There’s not only an audio and textual component—you can scan QR codes in the exhibit to get information on each panel, and even activate a 70-minute audio guide that you can hear through your phone ear pods—but an audio recording of Gregorian chant music curated by American-Taiwanese conductor Marlon Chen, and even an olfactory dimension, with subtle scents of patchouli, sandalwood and frankincense dispersed as you tour the exhibit. A few other local touches include an area for kids and parents to color their own copies of the panels with crayons, and a set of wall-mounted fluorescent angel wings—another perfect selfie opportunity.

Biallas has been in the exhibition business for years, with huge semi-trailer exhibits featuring Star Trek, artists like Frida Kahlo and others. For the Catholic-friendly Philippines, a show focused on the Sistine Chapel and its Biblical tableau seems a natural fit. “The way the show is designed, we’re very cost efficient. We come in in two or three days and we're out in one and it looks like a billion dollars.”

Martin Ballias of SEE Global: “We’re basically allowing people to experience something that they just could not see or do otherwise.”

The show has been a hit around the world. Social media is loaded with shots of people mimicking the fingers-touching pose, or riffing on “The Drunkenness of Noah,” or just holding hands and gazing at the show’s beautiful images. Even a Kardashian has posted about it.

Biallas actually has nine versions of “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibit” touring the world simultaneously, including Marseilles, Vienna, Toronto, San Jose, Australia, and Sao Paolo, Brazil, which sold 100,000 tickets. Can Manila crowds match that? In Asia’s largest Catholic country, why not?

It’s as though “The Fall of Man and The Expulsion from Paradise” is lifted off the Sistine Chapel ceiling and brought to eye level.

The show comes to Estancia Mall from July to September. After that, local organizers are considering moving it to another venue in Cebu from October until late January, coinciding with the Sinulog celebration. Tickets start at a very reasonable P500 (P650 after student/senior/PWD discounts) and there will also be family discounts.

One of the most intriguing panels in the Sistine Chapel—one involving 400 characters and painted last by Michelangelo—is “The Last Judgment.” The original wall fresco is 14 x 12 meters, and it is fascinating: the artist himself is said to appear in a Hitchcock-like cameo as one of the face-melting characters on the verge of descending into Hell.

“The Great Flood” as depicted by Michelangelo is an awesome sight—now you can see it face to face.

There’s a narrative to the Sistine Chapel journey, and a religious aspect, but you don’t have to choose one or the other: “I always emphasize that art is for everyone,” says Biallas. “Imagine bringing the art that Michelangelo strained to paint over four years right in your face. You can stand with your nose one inch away from God creating Adam in the famous ceiling fresco from Book of Genesis. You can see all of Michelangelo’s original brushstrokes in eye-popping detail.” 

Very soon, you will no longer need to just imagine it.

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Tickets for “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” go on sale April 1. Visit for information. Early birds can win free tickets and merchandise. The show will run at Estancia Mall, 1605 Meralco Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig starting July 1.