Enormous MGM Sistine Chapel scenic paintings go on view at Texas Performing Arts

The giant canvases are replicas of frescoes by Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters, created for the 1968 MGM film 'Shoes of the Fisherman'


After the wildly popular sold-out exhibition of giant Hollywood backdrop paintings earlier this year, the Texas Performing Arts is back with another iteration drawn from its collection of historic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer backdrop paintings.

“Behind the Scenes: Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel” features 18 enormous backdrops that are full-scale copies of the historic Renaissance frescos including Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement.” The exhibition is on view June 26 through Aug. 1, with timed tickets on sale at texasperformingarts.org

Michaelangelo backdrop
An MGM backdrop painting which is a replica of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel. The backdrop was used for the 1968 film “Shoes of the Fisherman.”

The backdrops were created for the 1968 MGM film “The Shoes of the Fisherman.” Installed on the Bass Concert Hall stage, the exhibition will be the first public viewing of the entire Sistine Chapel suite.

As part of Art Directors’ Guild began the Backdrop Recovery Project, in 2017 Texas Performing Arts’ scenic studio received 50 MGM backdrops which are used for study by theater design students.

“It is astonishing that we have a full-scale, hand-painted copy of the Sistine Chapel here at the University of Texas at Austin,” said Karen L. Maness, Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts and faculty member at the University of Texas. “It is a masterwork of Hollywood scenic art illusion. The exhibit on the Bass stage will delight both film enthusiast and the devout.”

The film tested the illusion-making prowess of MGM’s scenic art department. Denied access to film in the Sistine Chapel, the Italian-based film crew requested an emergency replica. George Gibson, scenic art supervisor, gathered scenic artists from across Hollywood, including competing film studios, to execute this monumental task in three short months.

Related: ‘The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop’ shows paintings at work’

So convincing was their illusion that the Catholic clergy were enraged at the film’s premiere, believing that the film crew had been allowed to film the actual Sistine Chapel.  The film was a box office disappointment but garnered Academy Award nominations for Alex North for Best Score and George W. Davis and Edward C. Carfagno for Best Art Direction.

Related articles