Last week, half a millennium after Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, crews unloaded all 5,000-odd square feet of his frescoes reproduced on fabric paneling, at the McAllen Convention Center.

The collection is a traveling exhibit, “Michelangelo-A Different View,” that’ll be in town through the first week of November.

It’s an imposing array of saints and sinners and the Savior, larger than life, in a moodily lit room. It calls for church-like quiet and reverence, even if ultimately you’re still just standing in a banquet hall in McAllen.

Arnaldo “Nano” Ramirez, the event’s organizer, said that was the goal: bringing a cultural landmark to the people of South Texas.

“A lot of people unfortunately will not have the opportunity to go to Rome and experience a Michelangelo exhibit, especially the Sistine Chapel,” he said. “So you have the opportunity at this point to come and see it for yourself, something so unique and special.”

Granted, the exhibit isn’t the Sistine Chapel and however powerful the art, you’d likely have a tough time fooling yourself into believing that you’re in Vatican City — though there is an Olive Garden down the road, if you’re going for an Italian ambiance.

“Of course the best way to see it is at the Sistine Chapel,” Ramirez said. “But you can’t tell the difference. I mean this thing is authorized by the Vatican. They got the best replicators to duplicate this artwork.”

There’s upsides, too, to seeing Michelangelo’s frescoes practically in your backyard. For starters, the entry fee’s a good deal cheaper than a plane ticket to Rome.

The exhibit’s eye level or lower, too. You won’t leave with a crick in your neck.

All those paintings are also markedly closer. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel’s over 70 feet high. You can get within inches of the reproductions. Instead of the intricate, sprawling mass of Bible passages depicted in the artwork’s original, the McAllen exhibit is broken down and delineated into separate stories and sections.

The panels are close enough for you to see the anguish on Adam and Eve’s haggard faces as an angel evicts them from Eden at swordpoint. 

You can see a headless Holofernes.

You’ll notice Jonah, and a tarpon subtly painted in on his left. The fish hardly looks big enough to swallow him, but Jonah looks uncomfortable nonetheless.

There are hundreds of faces and hundreds of expressions: ecstasy and bliss, torment and pain. 

“It moved me when I walked in, because the colors are so alive,” said McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez, who’s visited the original in Rome three times.

That experience could be emotional for some of the Valley residents who visited it Thursday.

Rosalinda Perez, a Weslaco resident, says her mother visited the Sistine Chapel before she died in 2011.

She came back singing the praises of Michelangelo. 

“She would have loved it,” Perez said. “She would have been here.”

Touring the exhibit Thursday, Perez said she felt a connection to her mother’s passion for the paintings.

“And so now that I’m looking at it, it’s bringing me back to her trip,” she said.

Rodriguez said that sort of experience is what the city was hoping for with the exhibit.

“It reminds me of what we do with the parade,” he said. “Our mission with the parade was to bring an event like Macy’s parade to McAllen, so that people from the Rio Grande Valley can experience something that they may never be able to. Well, this is just the same thing.”

More information on the exhibit is available at

View Monitor photojournalist Delcia Lopez’s full photo gallery of the exhibit here:

Photo Gallery: Michelangelo in McAllen