LED Lighting System Enhances 500-Year-Old Masterpiece

The Vatican recently unveiled a new $2.3 million lighting and ventilation system for the Sistine Chapel, allowing visitors to view the ceiling close to its original glory.

For centuries, natural sunlight streamed through the windows of the Chapel, causing ultraviolet radiation to damage the masterpieces. The “Last Judgement,” along with other frescoes, have faded dramatically over the years. The sunlight was shut out in the 1980s, preventing any further damage for the 500-year-old artwork.

The lighting system, which is comprised of more than 7,000 LEDs, reveals aspects of the masterpiece once lost in the shadows. The LEDs have a color spectrum specifically designed for the pigmentation of the frescos to make sure the light accurately reflects the original colors, according to Catholic Online. The lighting system required long nights in the chapel with Vatican Museum curators, trying out different mixes of red, blues and whites until they were able to get it just right. LEDs enable guests to see the masterpiece close to its original vibrant colors without causing anymore damage.

As expected, the new system did receive some criticism. Some complained that the LEDs cast an unnatural glow and threw some of the lesser known works into the shadows. The LEDs, however, highlight aspects that were overlooked before.

Catholic Online also reports that the LEDs went through vigorous testing to ensure that the LEDs would not damage the works. Some pigments of the frescoes were subjected to the LEDs at a high intensity, showing the effect the new system would have over 50 years. This demonstrates that LED lighting is the safest and most effective light source to use on fragile artwork.

Paired with the new ventilation system, the new lighting system will prevent further damage to the paintings as well as allow more people to view the paintings as they were originally supposed to be seen.


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