Why Is No Photography Allowed at the Sistine Chapel?

The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy, is one of the most visited buildings in the world. It’s an archaeological wonder full of the works of the one and only Michelangelo.

Unfortunately (and to the disappointment of many), you cannot take photos or record videos in the Sistine Chapel.

And before you think of it—no, it has nothing to do with flash photography.

So why can’t you take photos of the Sistine Chapel?

Can you take photos of the Sistine Chapel?

It has something to do with exclusive rights granted to Nippon, a Japanese television network.

You see, the Sistine Chapel is over five centuries old. It took Michelangelo four years to complete the work.

As you would imagine, the paintings (usually called frescoes) must have faded at some point.

In 1980, Vatican officials started planning to restore the chapel’s paintings. The price tag for doing so was over the rough.

They needed $3 million, and Nippon Corporation swooped to save the day. Later, that figure would balloon to $4.2 million.

So it was all for charity?

Not exactly. For that sum ($4.2 million,) Nippon Corporation won exclusive rights to photograph and record videos of the Sistine Chapel.

They assigned one of their photographers, Takashi Okamura, to capture high-detailed videos and photos of the paintings.

Nippon produced multiple documentaries and books with exclusive footage from the chapel.

How much the company made from their exclusive rights deal is never revealed. But it must have been a lot.

The Japanese media company’s exclusive rights to filming and photography waned in 1997, three years after the last restoration phase was completed.

Afterward, the authorities decided to keep the ban in place.

Are you wondering why?

The population of those watching the works of art are too many. If you imagine each of them with a camera, that’ll add up to too much noise.

An Italian critic penned an open letter to a major publication alluding that the chapel and its marvelous frescoes are to be enjoyed in silent contemplation. It does make sense.

Secondly, having people keep their cameras to themselves helps the crowd move faster. Otherwise, stopping to take a picture can block others from getting the best views.

Can a camera flash damage Frescoes?

Can I take pictures of the Sistine Chapel?

Apparently, there seems to be a few pieces of evidence that suggest using a flash can harm a painting.

Earlier model cameras are said to emit a lot of UV from their flash. Thankfully, the latest flash technology employs LED and xenon light sources that are not UV-dense. 

But as stated earlier, flash photography is not the core reason for the ban.

Could the ban ever be lifted?

That is highly unlikely. There are usually too many people in the chapel.

Several publications indicate the number is usually too high and could overwhelm their dehumidifiers and other air control systems.

So to keep the traffic moving as fast as possible, it would make sense for them to ban photo taking.

If you really want pictures of the Sistine Chapel, you would have to do with outside shots or those of the souvenir shop.

There are stories of some people taking photographs inside the building. It’s a slim possibility, and you might be lucky to get two or three shots before the guards stop you. 

What happens if guards catch you filming and photographing?

Why Is No Photography Allowed at the Sistine Chapel?

Unlike taking photographs inside embassies and high-ranking government offices where consequences can be extreme, that isn’t usually the case with the Sistine Chapel.

If you are caught, the guards will stop you pronto. 

On a bad day, the guards will demand you delete all the recorded footage and possibly escort you outside.

Other Articles In This Series

You might be wondering where else you can take photographs. This series of articles might be of interest:

Other areas of the Vatican City where photographs are not allowed

Why Is No Photography Allowed at the Sistine Chapel?

The Sistine Chapel isn’t the only place in the Vatican City that frowns upon photography. Avoid security offices and the Vatican post office as well.

Otherwise, you are free to shoot St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Walls, gardens, and almost all outdoor areas.

One more thing; selfie sticks, tripods, and anything that looks like professional equipment are not allowed.

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