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Sistine Chapel involved in digital photo project

28th February 2017

Many art enthusiasts would agree that Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes include some of the greatest artistic achievements in history. Every year, tourists from all over the world flock to the city of Rome to see the the famous Renaissance artwork for themselves, painted by Michelangelo during 1508 and 1512.

Now, with the technological advances of photography, printing techniques and digital darkrooms, the artist’s work has been captured as part of a five-year project that will aid future restorations. 

The project now means that the Vatican Museums have 270,000 digital frames including the famous masterpiece ‘The Creation of Adam’. 

According to the Guardian, the last time the whole of the Sistine Chapel was photographed for posterity, digital photography was in its infancy. Between 1980 and 1994, the Sistine frescoes were photographed during a project to restore and clean the paintings for the first time in centuries. 

However, with the latest state of the art technology we are able “to know the state of every centimetre of the chapel as it is today, in 2017,” explained Antonio Paolucci, former head of the museums and a world-renowned expert on the Sistine Chapel.

Captured to be marketed to libraries and collectors, the new images were taken for inclusion in a three-volume, 870-page set that is limited to 1,999 copies in a joint production of the Vatican Museums and Italy’s Scripta Maneant art publishers. It has been reported that the set costs around £10,000 (€12,000).

Giorgio Armaroli, head of Scripta Maneant, commented: “We used special post-production software to get the depth, intensity, warmth and nuance of colours to an accuracy of 99.9 per cent.

“Future restorers will use these as their standards.”

The technology and post-production computer techniques consisted of the stitching of frames that photographers took while working from 7pm to 2am for over two months out of sight of tourists and other visitors. 

Photographers, used portable scaffolding ten metres high along with a particular telescopic lens to photograph the images which are now stored in a Vatican server holding 30 terabytes of data.

Over 220 pages are printed in 1:1 scale, including The Creation of Adam and Jesus’s face from The Last Judgment. Each volume weighs about 9kg (20 pounds) and fold-out pages measure 60cm x 130cm (24in x 51in).

It is believed that during 1535 and 1541, Michelangelo returned to the chapel to paint the huge Last Judgement panel behind the altar. Across the world, ‘The Creation of Adam’ is one of the jewels of Western art, however, due to centuries of smoke the artwork suffered, causing the ceiling of the chapel to darken - leading to the first restoration in 1989.  

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