Here Is the Real Reason Why Photos Are Banned in the Sistine Chapel
It is not about flash photography
In 1512, Pope Julius II held a special vespers service. It was an evening event that was held to inaugurate the Sistine Chapel after Michelangelo had finished four years of toil painting frescos on the ceiling. It is now the most visited room in the world.
If you have ever visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, you will have heard the guards saying, at regular intervals, “No photo! No photo!” There are signs everywhere forbidding both photography and video and this is enforced every few seconds by the staff.
I have personally been told off there when I checked my phone and a largely disinterested guard just tapped me on the shoulder. I had been pre-emptively warned. I was one of 6 million visitors that year and from what I saw, nearly everyone else was snapping a picture and then being told off.
So what is the point of the ban?
Most people think it came about to limit the damage done by flash photography. That is not the case. It is actually down to a deal with a camera company and then kept in place for several valid reasons. Let me explain.
It started in 1980 and the restoration of the chapel
In 1980, the Vatican decided it was time to undertake a comprehensive restoration of the Sistine chapel and Michelangelo’s art in particular. It was a huge undertaking that would take 14 years.
It also came with a hefty price tag that forced them to seek outside financial assistance. So they let corporations bid for access.
The winning offer came from the Nippon Television Network Corporation of Japan (NTV). They offered $3 million (which eventually increased to $4.2 million) and no one was able to match them. In fact, at first, the deal was ridiculed by many.
However, in return for funding the project, Nippon TV got exclusive rights to all photography and video relating to the work. This meant the process of restoration itself and all the final restored art. A photographer called Takashi Okamura was commissioned and he set about recording it all.