11 July 2019, The Tablet

A brush with genius: fresh insights into Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel

A brush with genius: fresh insights into Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel

A close-up view of Michelangelo’s Delphic Sybil holding a scroll in one of the spandrels
Aaron Tam


A new visualisation of the Vatican’s greatest treasure offers startling insights

For centuries the Great Hall in Winchester has been dominated by a wall-mounted replica of King Arthur’s Round Table, decorated in the sixteenth century with a portrait of Arthur modelled on Henry VIII. Now, by a curious irony, the first head of the Church of England finds himself face to face with the ultimate expression of popery – Michelangelo’s Last Judgment – begun in 1536, two years after Henry’s break from Rome.

The six metre by six metre high-resolution reproduction hanging opposite the Round Table is one half of a touring exhibition making its only UK stop in Winchester; the other half, representing Michelangelo’s ceiling, is on display in the Discovery Centre five minutes’ walk away. Licensed by the Vatican Museums, “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: A Different View” (until 29 September) is part of a Vatican campaign to disseminate enjoyment of its artistic treasures more widely – to include, in this case, those who may have previously “enjoyed” the experience of being herded on a time slot through the Sistine Chapel for a brief squint at paintings 22 metres above their heads.

True, nothing can recreate that sense of awe on first entering the Sistine Chapel, but if you want to get close enough to appreciate not only the beauty of Michelangelo’s imagery but the intelligence behind it, this is the way to do it.

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