Sistine Chapel – New Life and New Light

February 3, 2016 / Art & Archaeology
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

I recently had the pleasure of attending an event at the Vatican during which the latest “upgrades” to the Sistine Chapel were presented by Professor Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums. In a nutshell, these recent upgrades ensure that this important site is well positioned not only to welcome its many visitors in the years to come, but to also satisfactorily continue playing its central role in the liturgy and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Veduta esterna della Cappella Sistina dalla salita della Zecca; Città del Vaticano; Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani
Veduta della Cappella Sistina

The presentation began with mention of the great restoration project of the Sistine Chapel done by Gianluigi Colalucci that took place from 1979 to 1994. The first step of that long journey was recounted again, when Colalucci did the first cleaning test on a few square inches of the fresco and how the true colors of Florentine Mannerism in the wonderful Nathan and Eleazar lunette reappeared for the first time, hundreds of years after they were painted by Michelangelo.

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Maestro Colalucci durante il restauro della figura di Adamo sulla volta della Cappella Sistina

Also remembered was how the restoration caused virulent disagreements and critique because so many actually thought that Michelangelo had painted the Sistine Chapel in darker colors rather than the brighter colors which appeared once the consolidated smoke deposits and dust pollution which covered the frescos were removed.

Veduta del ponteggio di restauro della volta della Cappella Sistina nel 1987 durante il restauro degli affreschi michelangioleschi. Si riconoscono i Maestri Restauratori Pier Giorgio Bonetti e Maurizio Rossi

The museum director however then reported that since the great restoration, the number of annual visitors has doubled, and while the frescoes are in good condition, they are nonetheless exposed to ever increasing negative agents which can negatively affect their conservation. Thus the decision to “upgrade” things recently.

Basically, it took three years to just to gather the data, study the conditions, decide on the best solutions, and design the new systems. First off, the number of visitors (recent figures top 6,000,000 people a year!) will be capped. Also, due to this enormous human presence the, air filtration system was rebuilt to guarantee the correct standards of conservation for the frescoes (and humans, of course). Simple AC? No chance! The new system has to guarantee (with either the Chapel empty or with thousands of people in it) constant temperature, controlled humidity, the reduction of atmospheric pollutants, efficient air circulation, and carbon dioxide within acceptable limits. Of course, given the enormous impact that light can have on both frescoes as well as the surrounding air conditions (temp, humidity, etc.) the lighting system too was completely redesigned and built.

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After
Veduta della Cappella Sistina

In addition, besides new schedules for the periodic testing of both the conditions of the frescos within the Chapel and of the efficiency of the new conditioning and lighting systems, Professor Paolucci also spoke of plans for the creation of a multi-language, multi-use instructional space which will help visitors better understand the history, the artists, the styles, the iconography, the theology, the doctrine, and the catechesis of the Chapel prior to entering it. Thanks to this “pre-emptive” education space, the visitors’ stay will be both more respectful of the space and more fulfilling for all thanks to a greater understanding of it.

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After
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This presentation of all the work done has given me a greater appreciation of the professional work done by such a qualified team of experts. It is work that needs to be held up as the foremost example of the best art conservation possible. The result of the restoration and the innovation of the new systems have stood the test of time and are a perfect example of how art should be preserved, for the present and the future.

(- Vatican Museum link.)

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After
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Veduta della Cappella Sistina

Roberto Civetta

by Roberto Civetta

Roberto Civetta restores artwork and antiques for a living, and is incredibly grateful for the chance to work on some of the greatest fresco, oil, stone, and architectural masterpieces that Italy has to offer. More info available at www.civettaroberto.com

15 Responses to “Sistine Chapel – New Life and New Light”

  1. Maria vallone

    I remember seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time back in the 60s. I have never seen it look as glorious as it does now . BRAVI to all involved

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  2. Absolutely fascinating. Roberto, you have made it a living legacy. Wonderful, all the more appreciated when we are so lucky to see it. Thank you.

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  3. These changes cannot come soon enough. On one hand it’s a great thing that more people want to see the Chapel, on the other hand the environmental impact caused by all and the lack of respect exhibited by some diminish the experience. Maybe a system that limits the number of visitors will cull out some of those who only came because it was on a list of “must see” sites they came upon.

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  4. Onofrio Curatolo

    Hats off to Roberto for the superb restoration of the Chapel. Thanks to all the artists for the wonderful treasures of the Italian master: Michelangelo. Grazie!!!!

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  5. Celia Boyle

    I visited in the 90s when the chapel was under restoration and so we could see the change in brightness. One other memory, it was most unfortunate to have to listen to the loud speaker going off intermittently asking for silence. Hopefully these changes will allow a respectful silence to return while viewing this extraordinary masterpiece.

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  6. Gian Banchero

    For many years I saw the chapel before it was cleaned but was never really impressed; as an historical piece, yes, but it was murky and as hard as I tried I was never really impressed. But a few years ago when seeing it cleaned it was a revelation, the colors were/are magnificent, I was, as they say, blown away!

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  7. Great to learn of these upgrades– thanks! I’m especially pleased to learn that there will be some educational materials offered to visitors BEFORE they enter the chapel. It’s been my experience, guiding many groups and individuals through the Sistine, that most people know next to nothing about what they’re seeing.

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  8. Lina Falcone

    The Sistine Chapel is just beautiful was just there last year, bravi to all who was involved with the restoration. Grazie.

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  9. Mary Ellen Gadski

    There are very elaborate procedures in Padova for viewers of the Giotto freschi in La Capella degli Scrovegni. Does Signore Civetta foresee similar measures in the Sistine Chapel’s future?

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  10. BELLA…GRAZZI…As a young college student taking Latin, I visited Rome and the Sistine Chapel surrounded by beauty, history and spirituality. Tears in my eyes and a pounding heart resulted from my first sight of the Sistine. I will never forget it. In later years I took my family and I would love to go again now that the true colors have been revealed. Such gorgeous work must be experienced to fully appreciate its value to the world.

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  11. Mary Lynne Simpson

    This was a wonderful article. I remember when I saw the first photos of the restored chapel (after having visited it in 1969) I was sort of horrified. It was SO bright it seemed almost fake to me. I’ve not been back to Rome since that trip but was happy to find that seeing the pictures in this post and reading the information about the project made me appreciate the fact that this huge project was accomplished and accomplished so professionally. Seeing the photos that showed almost the entire chapel also made it all look very natural. Many kudos to all who have brought Michaelango’s unbelievable, monumental masterpiece back to the vision he had when he started it.

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  12. I am very happy that you enjoyed this article and that some of you have recalled a trip to Italy … Michelangelo was a genius! thank you all for your personal stories are important for me to read, I excited! thank you all! roberto

    Reply

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