VATICAN CITY—In the 500 or so years since the Sistine Chapel was decorated, it has never looked so good. That’s in part because no one has ever seen Michelangelo’s frescoes portraying the book of Genesis and “The Last Judgment” in quite the right light. Now, with the help of 7,000 light-emitting diodes or LEDs, the detailed work has emerged from the shadows.
The new lighting system was unveiled last week to commemorate the 20thanniversary of the chapel’s restoration and the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death. The lighting project, together with a new climate control system, cost nearly $4 million, paid in part by funds from the European Union through a consortium called Led4Art, led by German light bulb giant Osram, which developed a special color temperature to best enhance Michelangelo’s hues at around 3,550 Kelvin units, according to the Osram explainer on the magical illumination. The rest of the work was donated either in supplies, expertise, or technology by firms who wanted to be involved in the project, meaning the Vatican didn’t have to spend any resources for the extraordinary enhancement.
As a bonus, the new lighting will use 90 percent less electricity, and is expected to lower the Vatican’s energy bill for the chapel by around 60 percent now that the standard ultraviolet light bulbs have been scrapped. The older UV bulbs, which proved damaging to the artwork, were introduced in 1980 when the chapel’s original windows were boarded over as part of a restoration project that took 14 years.