The Sistine Chapel Will Soon Be Lit Up With 7,000 Bright LEDs

Though talented with a brush, the Renaissance masters didn’t know much about art preservation. So over the years their paintings faded with exposure to sunlight. Even Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was subjected to sun damage until the Vatican sealed off its windows in the 1980s. But soon visitors will be able to experience it again in all its glory thanks to a custom-designed LED lighting system.

After the Vatican covered the windows in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece was left in the dark. But instead of turning away the millions of visitors hoping to gaze upon the work every year, the Vatican installed a low-energy halogen lighting system that protected the painting’s pigments — at the cost of obscuring its finer details and vibrant colours. It was less than ideal, but it protected the masterpiece from further damage.

However, to ensure that art enthusiasts making the pilgrimage to the Vatican to enjoy Michelangelo’s fresco don’t have to squint and strain their eyes to see it, the Sistine Chapel will soon be firing up its new LED lighting system that was custom-designed by Osram to put the masterpiece in the best light possible.

Some 7,000 LEDs are specially calibrated with a sophisticated colour correction algorithm to illuminate the ceiling so that the fresco’s colours look as close to how Michelangelo intended them to appear, since art historians now believe he mixed and chose his colours using daylight which tends to run a bit cooler than candles or halogen bulbs.

Fittingly set to be powered up this fall to help commemorate the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s passing, another advantage to the LEDs are that they run cool and completely lack light from the ultraviolet and infrared spectrums, which can damage artwork. As a result the new lighting system can actually be installed inside the room, and was engineered to be slender enough to hide behind a narrow ledge running around the interior of the Sistine Chapel so as not to distract visitors from the real star of the show. [Osram via The Atlantic]

Photo via Wikimedia