It was the late 1970s when curators of the revered Sistine Chapel in the Vatican of Italy's capital city, Rome began to pay close attention to the endless crowds that packed the halls of the timeless attraction. People hustled in and out of the church doors, snapping pictures and craning their necks to get a glimpse of the centuries-old ceiling adorned with frescoes created by the likes of legendary artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Raphael. Sunlight poured in from the sixteen arched windows lining the walls of the structure and illuminated the painted plaster inside, highlighting the breathtaking artwork and casting deep shadows among the cracks and crags that time had inevitably afforded. Radiant beams gleamed off of the nearly 500 year old pigments and exposed their slowly fading tones caked with dark deposits and soot that had built up in fine crevices sprawling across the once immaculate religious renditions. It became evident that the artwork was slowly dying, falling victim to countless years of exposure to humidity, pollutants, bacteria, and UV radiation. Something had to be done to save it.
Legendary Masterpieces With a Modern Appeal
Tourists, art critics, and admirers alike have crowded in to catch a glimpse of classical art exhibitions in Europe for hundreds of years and that trend doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. Art museums and historic sites rank among the top attractions to visit all around the continent and world-renowned exhibits like the Louvre in the romantic city of Paris bring in millions of visitors annually. Some more popular exhibits can even see an excess of ten thousand visitors per day! The name of the game for these venues is historical presentation and the draw for visitors is an opportunity to look back in time; to bear witness to an artwork or artifact that, while hundreds or thousands of years old, still evokes the awe and delight that it had when it was originally created.
A new exhibition in the historically rich Turin, Italy will allow exclusive access for visitors to view a piece so valuable and delicate it has been kept from public view for the better half of the past century. The prized drawing, believed to be the only existing self-portrait of the masterful artist Leonardo da Vinci, will be on display for ten weeks starting with its premier last Thursday as part of the new "Leonardo and the Treasures of the King" exhibit. Sketched on fragile parchment in fading red chalk the self-portrait has only been available for public viewing a handful of times in the past century as curators have struggled to keep the piece intact. Eighty other masterpieces by artists like Rembrandt and Carrache will be featured alongside da Vinci's self-portrait in the Royal Library of Turin, which has recently been declared part of a UNESCO world heritage site. The exhibition has been met with a staggering response and the display will be limited to 50 guests per hour in order to regulate the environment around the priceless artifacts.
Keeping the Sistine Pristine
While smaller pieces like da Vinci's self-portrait can be contained in protective cases and easily moved around, the problem of preserving the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel remained a much larger challenge for curators and conservators to overcome. Restorations to the inside frescoes commenced in 1980 and the windows of the chapel were sealed off when it was realized that UV radiation from the natural sunlight was slowly fading the original tints and tones of the paint. As part of a controversial decision, chemists and scientific analysts decided upon a solvent that was used to clean decades of candle smoke and car exhaust residue off of the ancient plaster, leaving behind only the original first coat of pigment applied by the original artists themselves. Everything from elemental composition to artistic technique was analyzed in the rehabilitation and over 4.2 million dollars were invested to make sure the works of art were properly restored.
The decision to seal off the main windows of the chapel was met with harsh criticism by art historians as it snuffed out the natural lighting that was specifically ordained to don the walls and ceiling but directors have recently employed a dazzling new solution to the age-old problem of shedding new light on the Sistine Chapel. Over seven thousand LED lights have been employed at a price tag of almost four million dollars, illuminating "The Creation of Adam" and "God Dividing the Waters" in a resplendent new glow that brings even the most minute details into stunning relief. Each individual LED is specifically tuned according to formulas and calculations devised by analysts to exhibit the paintings according to how they were meant to look when naturally lit by the sun. Special attention was given to tones of various colors and the new lighting system is uniquely tailored to present pigments in their true hue. A state-of-the-art air filtration and ventilation system was even utilized in the recent restoration to regulate everything from the temperature and humidity to airborne bacteria in the environment. While staunch purists still regard the updates as inhibitive to the artist's authentic intention for the presentation of their works, their skepticism has been overwhelmed by the hundreds of awe-stricken viewers that behold the spectacular architectural canvas on a daily basis.
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