VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Sistine Chapel has a brighter, cooler new look.
The Vatican on Wednesday unveiled a state-of-the art illumination and air conditioning system designed to better show off the chapel’s precious frescoes and protect them from the dirt, breath and heat of the nearly 6 million people who marvel at them every year.
The three-year, 3 million euro ($3.8 million) project was undertaken because the existing air conditioning system, installed 20 years ago when only 1.5 million people visited annually, was unable to maintain the humidity and temperature levels needed to keep the frescoes safe.
Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci said it was fitting that the Vatican was marking the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death not with a series of academic conferences but “with something durable, not ephemeral: securing from a climactic point of view (Michelangelo) Buonarotti’s masterpiece and giving it the right lighting.”
The air conditioning system adjusts the air flow, humidity and temperature levels using 70 sensors mounted in the chapel walls and two closed-circuit TV cameras that count the number of people inside at any given time. It maintains the chapel at a nippy 20-25 degrees Celsius (68-77 Fahrenheit) and keeps dust particles and air flow within parameters set by the Vatican’s art experts.
The illumination system, meanwhile, features 7,000 LED lights adjusted to better bring out the deep blue background of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” and better show off the frescoes depicting the life of Moses and Christ running along the chapel walls. Those frescoes, by Botticelli, Perugino and Domenico Ghirlandaio and others, have long played second-fiddle to Michelangelo’s ceiling and altar masterpieces in part because the previous lighting system left them literally in the dark.
The LED technology will save the Vatican more than 80 percent in energy costs.
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