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Lighting and air conditioning systems to give a new lease of life to the Sistine Chapel

by Carlo Marroni

It is one of the most emblematic and evocative places in Italy, even though it is not actually in Italy but in the small State of Vatican City, where the Pope Francis rules as elected sovereign. It's the Sistine Chapel, whose vault is the most famous fresco painting in the world, and under which Popes are elected.
Restored in 1994, in a few days the chapel will start breathing fresh air, and the colors of its paintings will be brought back to their original splendor. This will be made possible by the new air conditioning and lighting systems which will be launched at the end of October.

It will be a double anniversary: 20 years have passed since the renovation of the Universal Judgement, and 450 years since Michelangelo's death.
After three years of work - for a total cost of slightly more than three million euros, all covered by the companies which supplied the systems, Osram and Carrier - the Sistine Chapel will enjoy air turnover, reduction of dust and polluting substances, as well as temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide control.
All these factors, which in the long run could damage the wall paintings, are caused by the near six million visitors a year. “We will finally solve the problems due to the anthropic pressure the chapel is exposed to,” said professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, as he presented the latest news.
“The new lighting system, with 7,000 led lamps, will provide a balanced, dim (but not cold) light, which will allow visitors to see the paintings without focusing on one in particular,” said Paolucci.

The new renovation is, in its way, a tribute the much-fussed about 1994 renovation, led by Fabrizio Mancinelli and managed by Gianluigi Colalucci. “Today, it is regarded as the most important restoration of the Twentieth century. At the time, the view prevailed of Michelangelo as a tormented and drama ridden artist, and that the dirt and the soot which covered the paint gave an accurate depiction of him. But the cleaning gave back to Michelangelo his colors, those color we still see today.”

The dates chosen for the conference are not fortuitous, as they remind us of two particularly meaningful events: the inauguration on October 31, 1512 of the vault of the Chapel by Pope Julius II della Rovere; and October 31, 1541, when Pope Paul III Farnese unveiled the great Universal Judgement fresco.
A glimpse into the past, along with a readiness for the future and an openness to new technologies: in fact, as professor Paolucci revealed, a project is underway for a virtual visit of the great chapel of the Roman Catholic Church.
“We asked multinational corporations (whose names are not to be disclosed) to design smart glasses. They will provide information over the historical background, the authors and the characteristics of the Sistine Chapel. At a small cost, visitors will be able to view 3D images of the chapel before the actual visit, so that they can gather the necessary information before they arrive,” said Paolucci.