New light and air delivers an invigorated Sistine Chapel

It was only a matter of time before the Sistine Chapel was modernised. That’s not to say it has been transformed beyond recognition into some quasi-futuristic place of worship, with Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling fresco repurposed for a digital-savvy crowd. The thought isn’t worth entertaining.
The changes are purposeful and designed to enhance the viewing experience of, primarily, the ceiling, which is certainly the main highlight of the chapel, though not the only remarkable experience on offer. The entire project took three years to complete at a cost of £2.4 million.
Two of the biggest developments unveiled by the Vatican include high-tech lighting and a state-of-the-art air-conditioning system, which both boosts the visibility and experience of Michelangelo’s rendering of The Last Judgement, a near perfect example of high renaissance art at is best.
The LED lighting is plentiful – there are some 7,000 lights in the chapel – helping to bring to life obscured features of the painting, including the deep blue background of The Last Judgement, another marvellous fresco executed by the Italian master.
“The LEDs have a colour spectrum specifically designed with the pigmentation of the frescoes in mind to ensure the light faithfully reflects the original colours, as the artists intended,” saidMarco Frascarolo, founder of Fabertechnica, one of the companies behind the lighting.
“As each LED can be tuned to a different colour, we spent long nights in the chapel with the Vatican Museum curators, trying out different mixes of red, blues, whites… trying to get it just right.”
With regards to the mobile air-conditioning system – it will not be static to ensure that the entire space is well ventilated – up to 70 sensors provide it with the data needed to adjust the flow, humidity and temperature.
This is perhaps one of the most important developments in sustaining the integrity of the frescoes, which were painted in between 1508 and 1512, and 1535 and 1541. Some 20 years have gone by since the Sistine Chapel last experienced an upgrade to its air-conditioning system.
“The previous system was only capable of regulating the air for up to 700 people,” said Michael Grabon, solutions centre director at Carrier, providers of the new air-conditioning system.
“With this system the room can hold a maximum of 2,000 people without damaging the artworks. We know the amount of CO2 and humidity released by each visitor and can make adjustments accordingly, lowering the temperature or raising it if necessary to compensate for cold spells.”
These upgrades will go a long way in upholding the Sistine Chapel experience, as it remains one of the most popular attractions in the world. Up to six million visitors descend on the chapel annually, principally to marvel at Michelangelo’s masterpieces.
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art storage and art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.