Jason Momoa says sorry for taking photos in Italy’s Sistine Chapel
Jason Momoa has issued a video statement apologizing for taking photographs inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel in Italy. It is strictly forbidden to take photographs and videos inside the chapel in order to preserve the frescos by the renaissance painter Michaelangelo.
The Game of Thrones star and Leica camera fan is currently in Rome filming the nth instalment of the Fast and Furious film franchise and posted the images from his Vatican visit to his Instagram.
“I love you Italy,” Momoa wrote. However, it provoked some consternation when people noted that most ‘normal’ people (ie. non-famous) weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the Sistine Chapel.
Momoa responded by posting a video apologizing for the disrespect, saying “I gave a wonderful donation to bring my friends and crew because we only had a couple of days off to experience these places. And then I found people wanted to take pictures with me, which is very odd, during a trip to the Vatican with all this wonder and they want to take pictures with me, which I don’t get, but regardless, I did,” Momoa explained.
“I was very respectful and I asked for permission from what I thought, would be okay,” he continues, “I would never want to do anything to disrespect someone’s culture. If I did, I apologize. It was not my intention.”
Many art museums and galleries do not allow video and photos to be taken in an effort to protect the artwork from being exposed to a constant barrage of camera flashes. However, the Sistine Chapel photography ban is more down to protecting copyright than it is protecting the murals themselves, and the story behind it is rather interesting.
In 1980 the chapel was in dire need of restoration, and a generous donation of $3million followed from the Nippon Television Network Corporation of Japan (NTV). In return, the NTV demanded exclusive filming and photographic rights to the Sistine Chapel, including documenting the restoration work.
Photographer Takashi Okamura was commissioned to document the restoration process and finished work and the resulting images were apparently, spectacular.
Now, these exclusive rights finished in 1997, 3 years after the restoration was completed, as agreed. However, Vatican officials agreed to keep the photo ban in place because there are simply just too many visitors. In 2019 alone (pre-covid) the numbers peaked at 6.7 million people. That’s a lot of foot traffic. In the summer months, there can be up to 30,000 visitors in a day.
I must admit that I don’t have a problem with the Vatican’s photo ban. The chapel itself is awe-inspiring, particularly when you consider how Michaelangelo went about physically painting such a large room. The quality of the painting is exquisite. But, it’s also a place of worship, and wherever you stand on religious beliefs, we should always respect that and act accordingly. I personally find it refreshing that there are places still in the world that are standing up to selfie culture.
It’s not always necessary to prove that you were somewhere by taking a photograph. And I have to say that there are plenty of places inside the Vatican including St. Peter’s Basilica where you can take as many photos as you want. If you so desperately want an image of the cherubs or Adam from the Sistine Chapel then there are numerous postcards and prints on sale as you exit through the gift shop.
In Momoa’s case, it does sound a little like an innocent mistake, and I imagine that celebrities are used to a certain amount of special treatment so perhaps he just didn’t question it if he saw the “no photos” sign. Ultimately no harm done, but the shirtless apology video goes a long way to restore the balance ?
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe