Feature, Hospitality/Leisure

Four world-class artworks lit by LEDs

Photo credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, National Gallery, London and The York Project, Munich (Vincent Van Gogh Foundation)

The latest in LED lighting technology is being applied to the world’s most famous artworks for more vivid colours and better conservation


The Mona Lisa

In 2013 the Louvre Museum in Paris unveiled the newly relit Mona Lisa, now using specially designed LED lights from Toshiba.

A new fitting was developed specifically to light the 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci painting, using 34 LEDs which can be tuned to achieve optimal colour rendering and compensate for any colour shift over time. The product includes optical systems to frame the painting and maintain high uniformity across its surface.

The new fixtures have improved colour rendering, got rid of ultraviolet and infrared radiation and reduced electricity consumption for the lighting.

Toshiba has been working with the Louvre since 2010, relighting outdoor areas including the famous pyramid, and  helping achieve a 73 per cent reduction in the energy used for exterior lighting at the museum. The Mona Lisa and the Red Room, a gallery of 19th century French paintings, are the first indoor areas to go LED.


The Last Supper

The new LED lighting scheme for Da Vinci’s famous mural of Jesus and his disciples was unveiled in March. Designed and donated to the Last Supper Museum by iGuzzini, the lights have made the painting’s colours and contrasts more vivid. At the same time, they slash energy use and excess heat in the building.

Previously, fluorescent tubes lit the painting while energy-guzzling halogen AR111 fittings provided general lighting. Not only did those fittings consume 3.5kW, they also brought huge amounts of heat into the room (the last thing delicate paintings need) and about a third of the light was spilled on to the adjacent walls and ceiling.

Milan’s Architectural and Landscapes Heritage Office felt The Last Supper deserved better.

The old fittings have been replaced by custom versions of iGuzzini’s Palco LED spotlight to light the painting, and Cestello fittings for general lighting.

Getting the lighting right is vital for any artwork, but particularly so for The Last Supper, because Da Vinci’s mastery of light is one of the things that makes the painting so special.

The nine-metre-wide painting fills a whole wall, giving the illusion that the room continues into the picture, and just as the only daylight in the room comes from high windows to the left of the painting that cast light on to the opposite wall, so the right wall in the painting is shown brightly lit, while the left wall is in shadow.

Most of those windows are now shaded to protect artworks from sunlight. But the lighting design team preserved the effect by reducing light levels on the left side.

The precise colour composition of the new scheme has been tuned to bring out the particular shades used in the painting, thanks to a custom-made chip-on-board LED light source. Ceregioli told Lux: ‘We have a colour temperature of 3800K, but it looks close to 3200K because you can see the warm colours are so deep, so powerful.’

From a conservation point of view, LED lights like these are perfect for delicate artworks because they’re pretty much UV-free. 

The new lights reduce energy consumption by an enormous 83 per cent, and generate much less heat, opening up the possibility that the museum may be able to relax the restrictions on visiting – currently only 25 people at a time are allowed into the room, so visitors have to book a 15-minute slot weeks in advance.


Photo: Governatorato dello Stato della Città del Vaticano – Direzione del Musei

The Sistine Chapel ceiling

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.

Last year the Vatican installed 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. 

‘We want to honour the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death by providing new lighting for his work,’ said Professor 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 per cent.

The most difficult aspect of the two-year job was to prove that the light was not harmful for the art,’ said Martin Reuter, Osram’s senior technical project manager.

Osram sent original pigments for the ceiling, which Michelangelo completed in 1512, to Hungary’s Pannonian Univeristy, to test that it was safe to light them with the new LEDs.

In order to be kinder and gentler to the paintings, the company used a mix of red, green and blue LEDs, rather than the usual blue LED coated in phosphor, to create white light.


The design team from Beersnielsen had the luxury of 80 days (and nights) to tune and aim each individual spot correctly

The Night Watch

In 2013 Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum reopened after an epic 10-year refurbishment. It now features an all-LED lighting scheme from Philips throughout the museum, including its most famous artwork: Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.

The 1642 painting, depicting a company of civic militia guards, is famous for its use of light and shadow.

The new lighting is based on Philips StyliD luminaires, containing the Fortimo tight-beam spotlight module. The colour rendering index of 93 brings out reds and blues in the paintings particularly well. 

The same light sources were used throughout, because the Rijksmuseum wanted visitors to be able to compare the artworks under the same light.

The museum’s head of exhibitions Tim Zeedijk told Lux: ‘I really like the way the Night Watch is lit now – the depth and the beauty and the colour rendering.’

And the minimal UV emission from LEDs means the painting is well protected.


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