The American Academy in Rome is pleased to announce an important new gift to our library collections: The Sistine Chapel, a rare collection of books that presents one-to-one-scale reproductions of every fresco in the Sistine Chapel, including Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling, his Last Judgment, and other famed works that line the chapel walls. AAR expresses its deep gratitude to Katharine Rayner for generously donating this limited-edition, three-volume set.
The massive size of the books, 24 by 17 inches each and weighing seventy-five pounds in total, begins to hint at its ambition. Indeed, the project took years to realize. According to the publisher, Callaway, “a team of photographers made more than 270,000 ultra-high-resolution digital images over the course of 67 consecutive nights, while the Sistine Chapel was closed to the public” during the COVID-19 pandemic. They used a scaffolding system that we can imagine was not unlike the one Michelangelo used to paint the ceiling while lying on his back. After the shoot, the images were combined through software and color matched against the original frescoes.
The monumental set was published in collaboration with the Vatican Museums and the Bologna-based art publisher Scripta Maneant. The astonishing detail of the photography—down to the individual brushstrokes—provides an invaluable resource for Rome Prize Fellows, Residents, and library readers. “Art historians and scholars of Michelangelo, Perugino, Botticelli, and other Renaissance artists will be able to access the volumes and study the Sistine Chapel in far greater detail, and with more care, than is possible in situ,” said Sebastian Hierl, AAR’s Drue Heinz Librarian.
The Academy’s set is one of only six hundred in the English language and one of only 1,999 copies altogether. The set is available for members of the AAR community and all library visitors to view by appointment in the Barbara Goldsmith Rare Book Room.