New Photos Show the Sistine Chapel as Never Before

Digital photos capture the iconic ceiling in unprecedented detail.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The world-famous Sistine Chapel—which greets as many as 25,000 visitors per day, their necks craned toward the ceiling—can now be looked at in even greater detail, after being documented with the newest technology in art photography.

Ending a five-year project, the frescoes adorning the ceiling at the Vatican Museums have been shot in 270,000 digital frames, giving the unprecedented opportunity for close examination.

“In the future, this will allow us to know the state of every centimeter of the chapel as it is today, in 2017,” said Antonio Paolucci, former head of the Vatican Museums.

Michelangelo used help from assistants to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the 16th century. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Michelangelo used help from assistants to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the 16th century. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The entire photography operation took 65 nights, in which photographers worked in the Sistine Chapel outside of tourist hours from 7 pm to 2 am. The images were then edited in post-production in a process called “stitching,” according to the Guardianwhere frames of the photos were brought together.

The new photos were taken for publication in a limited three-volume, 870-page set to be distributed to libraries and collectors. One of these 1,999 existing copies will set one back about €12,000 ($12,709).

Sistine Chapel. Photo via: Wikimedia Commons.

Sistine Chapel. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Over 220 of the pages are printed in 1:1 scale, and include images of the mosaic floor and 15th-century frescoes by artists other than Michelangelo, with whom the chapel is best associated.

Of course the most iconic frames are also present, including the touching hands from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam and the face of Jesus from The Last Judgment.

“We used special post-production software to get the depth, intensity, warmth and nuance of colors to an accuracy of 99.9%,” said Giorgio Armaroli, head of Scripta Maneant art publishers, in a statement to The Guardian. “Future restorers will use these as their standards,” he concluded.


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