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Sistine Chapel lights up with LEDs

You be the judge: The last time you were at the Sistine Chapel, it probably didn't look like this.

ROME – If you’ve been to the Sistine Chapel, you probably recall the crick in your neck and the strain on your eyes as you gazed upwards to spot Michelangelo’s ceiling.

Strain no more.

The Vatican will today officially switch on 50 new luminaires containing 7,000 LEDs that illuminate masterpieces such as The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgement in a way that brings the paintings and frescoes into full, clear and colourful view, as was evident at a press preview last night. 

‘We want to honour the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death by providing new lighting for his work,’ said Prof Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums.

The great artist would probably be proud of the project, led by Germany’s Osram, which said the new LEDs provide ten times the brightness of previous lighting, while slashing energy consumption by 90 percent.

What was the most difficult aspect of the two-year job?

‘To prove that the light was not harmful for the art,’ said Martin Reuter, senior technical project manager at Osram, speaking to Lux at the event.

In order to be kindler and gentler to the paintings, the company did not use phosphor-coated white light, but instead used of a mix of blue, red and green LEDs. Osram sent original pigments for the ceiling, which Michelangelo completed in 1512, to Hungary’s Pannonian Univeristy for testing. Pannonian gave the all-clear after a year.

Other partners included Barcelona’s Instituit de Recerca en Energia, which investigated the energy reductions, and Rome-based lighting designer Faber Technica.

The European Commission helped fund the partners (the money did not go straight to the Vatican, as the Vatican is not part of the EU). The parties have not revealed the cost of the project. But the results speak for themselves, as the photo above shows. Lux was there. Watch for more in our upcoming video.

Photo is from the Vatican