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Michelangelo’s Frescos Show Whitening

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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The six million tourists a year who visit the Sistine Chapel to admire Michelangelo’s centuries-old frescos have taken a toll on the artwork.

Vatican officials said Thursday (Oct. 30) that the frescos were exhibiting whitening, first discovered in 2010.

The announcement came during an international conference marking the 20th anniversary of the frescos'  restoration. The 500-year-old frescos were extensively cleaned in 1994.

Sistine Chapel
© / Geraldo_Borbolla

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide and humidity passing through the chapel’s porous walls formed a layer of powder on the iconic paintings, the Associated Press has reported.

The two-day conference was organized by the Vatican Museums.

“The concern was not just aesthetic, but also the danger for the integrity of the paintings,” Vittoria Ciminio, head of the museums’ conservation department, said during the conference.

The majestic frescos, painted between 1508 and 1512, are one of the Italian Renaissance’s most iconic masterpieces.  

Powder on the Paintings

Officials believe that the increasing levels of carbon dioxide and humidity passing through the chapel’s porous walls formed a layer of powder on the paintings, the Associated Press reported.

Restoration specialists said they were able to remove the superficial powder, which consists of calcium carbonate and calcium bicarbonate deposits. However, they warned that the buildup could do lasting damage if left untreated, reports said.

Protective Upgrades

To address the issue, the Vatican has recently installed a variety of upgrades to the chapel.

© / fazon1

Six million tourists a year—and no more, starting nowvisit the Sistine Chapel inside Vatican City.

The improvements include new air conditioning and an air filtration system designed to regulate the temperature and humidity to prevent damage to the art.

There are also new sensors to monitor dust, humidity, and carbon-dioxide levels. In addition, closed-circuit TV surveillance counts the number of visitors so that the air conditioning and ventilation system can adjust itself accordingly, the Associated Press reported.

New LED lighting has been installed in the chapel with fixtures that will not cause heat damage, officials said.

Finally, the Vatican has decided to cap the number of tourists at six million a year.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Artists; Churches; Conservation; Decorative finishes; Decorative Finishes; Decorative painting; Europe; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures

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