New leaps in preserving historical masterpiece

By | Art & Design
Daniel before and after the restoration in 1984. Credit@

New light and air-conditioning systems were unveiled last week, installed in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City to counteract the effect of growing tourist visits per year. The 7,000 LED light design aims to bring better focus and display to the minimal highlighted features within this near floor to ceiling artistry as well as highlighting contrasting colours. The high-tech heat and air conditioning system which took two years to create and install, aims to operate through cameras and over 70 sensors around the chapel. Adjusting the air flow and temperate by reading the number of tourists and the heat and humidity of the room.

This state of the art system aims to provide a sharper, more vivid view at every detail of the iconic frescos as well as allowing the chapel to be viewed as a whole, in its entirety. It is believed that dust, body sweat and carbon dioxide are the main obstacles in preserving Michelangelo’s 15th century artwork and with the tourist total reaching 6 million a year, this new technology has arrived at the right time.

St Peter's Basilica, Vatican. Credit@ Glen Scarborough via

St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican. Credit@ Glen Scarborough via

The Sistine Chapel is the official Papal conclave for the Vatican and while it hosts nearly 2,000 visitors a day, is still used for papal activity. Its fame ultimately lies in its decorative aspects. The Sistine Chapel ceiling, alter motif and wall scenes have become historical masterpieces that redefined painting in the Western World.

Originally bare walls with a ceiling of golden stars on a blue sky, a team of Renaissance painters; Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Pinturicchio, Perugino and Roselli created the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ scenes that were painted onto the walls of the Sistine chapel. What was already considered breath-taking work was soon to be eclipsed 28 years later when Michelangelo started his ceiling masterpiece.

Sphere within a sphere, Italian metal sculpture within the Vatican courtyard. Credit@ Lianne Cassidy

Sphere within a sphere, Italian metal sculpture within the Vatican courtyard. Credit@ Lianne Cassidy

Initially intimidated by the scale and enormity of the task, Michelangelo was reluctant to accept Pope Julius II’s offer to paint the Sistine Chapel, feeling his talents lied more with sculpting. Michelangelo finally agreed after being allowed a free hand in the pictorial content of the painting. What was completed 3 years later was a tour de force of artistry.

The Final Judgement's blue background should become a major colour contrast with the new light installation. Credit@ wiki.comNine scenes from Genesis including; God’s relationship with mankind, God’s creation of the world and Mankind’s fall from grace held front and centre of the Sistine ceiling. Michelangelo went on to paint 12 biblical and classical men and women who prophesised the arrival of Jesus Christ and above the previous 14th century wall art, he painted the ancestors of Christ.

Michelangelo returned and completed a large scale painting of the Final Judgement of Jesus Christ’s second coming behind the alter at the front of the Sistine Chapel. Over 5,000 square feet of frescos were painted in total and became a landmark of human achievement and high calibre artistry.

Restoration work began in 1984, gaining valuable information on Michelangelo’s methods and just how impressive his capabilities were, it’s believed he painted a fresco all at once while the plaster was fresh. Allowing a solvent to be created to improve the restoration of his original artwork, removed of any black soot, dust or additional layers.

Just over 500 years on from its creation, this decorative iconographical creation is still one of the most defining examples of influence and human accomplishment. Combined with the modern technology developments installed this week, Michelangelo’s work may be seen and experienced as clearly as he intended and insured to survive for years to come.

What influence has Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece had on modern life and society?


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