26 March 2011

Not Taking Pictures of the Sistine Chapel

You can take pictures all throughout the Vatican Museums, except for inside the room that every one of the 4.5 million annual visitors are most likely there to see. I figured it wasn't allowed for security purposes. To keep the flow of traffic moving. However, it turns out that Nippon TV, a Japanese television company, funded the restoration of the chapel's frescoes in the 80s in exchange for exclusive photographic rights. Any book, postcard, print, etc wanting to depict the Sistine Chapel has to buy the copyright from Nippon TV. Talk about a good investment.
Signs like this were everywhere leading up to the Sistine Chapel. Be quiet. Don't fall down the stairs. No photography. Good thing they include that second one, because if someone actually did fall down the stairs, there's no way people would be able to remain silent - or refrain from taking pictures. This picture was taken right before entering, the closest our photo memories would come to capturing the famous work. Or so we thought.
We've seen a lot of rule-breaking in the Vatican. Shorts, miniskirts, flash photography in the Basilica, photography of the Papal tombs. On our tour of the Excavations beneath St. Peter's (which was absolutely amazing), photography was prohibited. Yet, the tour in front of us each took turns flashing away at the box of Peter's bones. In the Sistine Chapel, though, it was particularly egregious. Guards just sat or stood there, not saying a word.
Just how lenient are the Vatican security guards? Well, just look at these people! Carla, our garden tour guide, told us that the man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II was put in jail only because St. Peter's Square is technically under Italian jurisdiction. Had the crime taken place under Vatican City law, he would have just been forgiven and set free. That may have been an exaggeration... but I am inclined to think it wasn't.
Obviously, I decided to break the rules, too - but focused only on the tourists and not the work. It felt a little more honest that way. Plus, it's not like you need my photo to show you what one of the most famous works of art looks like. By the way, back when the pope was striking the copyright deal with Nippon TV, he apparently gave NBC a shot at it, too. They foolishly declined. How this fact hasn't popped up in an episode of 30 Rock, I'll never know.


  1. well, at the very least, you gave your readers a bit of jaw dropping trivia, if not the ceiling itself..very, very interesting...i guess no one in their right mind would sue the papa, eh? :)

  2. What a lovely post on Sistine-Chapel ! I love touring Sistine-Chapel so much that I am doing a series on both the well known and the rarely visited tourist attractions of Italy's twenty regions. You make my heart to go back to Italy !
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  3. I know this is an old post - so my apologies for the delayed response. I just came across it during a search on some information on the Sistine Chapel restoration.

    My understanding is that the sole rights to photography and video by Nippon TV (received for funding the over $4M restoration) expired 3 years after the completion of each phase of the restoration. I believe the last phase was completed in 1999 so the exclusive rights should have ended in 2003. The Chapel staff has continued to enforce the "no Photography" rules, but as you saw seems to vary in the level of enforcement.

  4. I was there in fall of 2016. The no photography no video rule was strictly enforced. The room was completely packed and the constant reminder of no photographs was heard numerous times. A man was plucked from the crowded room and escorted out. I did not want to chance the same fate so admired the art and the fortune of being there without trying for a photo.