See the Sistine Chapel Up Close All Over

Lying on your back on the Sistine Chapel floorThe Vatican has up an amazing 3D virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel on its website. You can move in any direction, crawl the beautiful mosaic floor, climb up the walls to the ceiling, slide down The Last Judgment and back again. It rotates in every direction. Click and drag and the whole room follows.

The room takes a little time to load when you enter, and the zoom function can be a little poky reloading the images, but they have beautiful hold music while you wait and the end result is totally worth it.

From the “OMG I can’t believe how spoiled I’ve become” annals, I wish they had annotations, even just some hovertext notes would be great so you could identify characters and themes. I went hunting online for a numbered map that provide that information, but I couldn’t find one. This site is as close as I’ve found. It’s not exactly the most navigable site I’ve ever seen, but it packed to the gills with info about the ceiling frescoes, The Last Judgment, and the chapel wall frescoes.

The virtual tour was designed by a team of students and faculty from Villanova University‘s communications and computer science department on behalf of the Vatican Museum. They’ve been working on the project for 2 years, photographing every inch of the chapel. This is the most access any outside group has ever been granted.

“This is one of the most innovative explorations of a work of art to date,” said Paul Wilson, a faculty member in Villanova’s Communication Department and one of the leaders of the virtual tour project. “It will change forever the way artists and historians can view the amazing work and mind of Michelangelo – his attention to detail, social commentary and sense of humor.”

Several thousand digital photographs were taken with an advanced motorized camera rig and then digitally stitched together, color-corrected, and post-processed by Villanova team members to create a cubic panorama file that presents the Chapel in a three-dimensional projection. Tour visitors can zoom in for high-resolution views of the interior of the Chapel. The tour can be viewed over Internet connections with a variety of bandwidths.

The Villanova team have already created virtual tours for the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls (my favorite church when I was a girl because of the glorious gold facade and the cloister) and the Basilica of St. John in Lateran. They just finished the internal work on St. Peter’s Basilica, with the tour scheduled to go online as early as this summer.

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