Michelangelo’s fresco “The Creation of Adam” depicts Adam stretching his finger out towards God, so that he may be filled with life. The world-famous image is one of the nine frescoes with 350 biblical figures that adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. For some time now, the colors in these paintings, which are 500 years old, have been lit up in new splendor. The beautiful illumination comes from OSRAM LEDs.
Before the Chapel was immersed in this new light for the first time, an international team from OSRAM had worked on the new system for over three years. The team was responsible for the technical equipment and the coordination of the project. Two other companies and a university were also on board, as well as the client, of course, the Vatican.
A great task lay ahead
Under the leadership of Mourad Boulouednine, who managed the project from Munich and coordinated the international partners, outstanding results were achieved by the consortium’s researchers, engineers, technicians and light designers. The list of jobs that had to be addressed was long: the lighting intensity and color reproduction were to be considerably improved, and the energy consumption was to go down by at least 60 per cent. The lighting’s brightness was to be made fully dimmable, and the spectral distribution was to be adaptable to the pigments of the Michelangelo frescoes in order to achieve the best-possible light color. “However, this was also about proving something,” Mourad recalls. “We wanted to show that LED lighting does far less damage to renaissance works of art than any other lighting technology.”
More gluing, less drilling
The working conditions were rather unusual. The OSRAM staff were often busy well into the night, as they could only begin work when the last visitors had left the Chapel in the evenings. To prevent damages, they were not allowed to drill any holes into the walls of the Chapel to attach the lights. They were mounted on specially manufactured carbon mats which were glued onto the masonry and hidden behind a cornice. A new, unique technique.
A system especially optimized in terms of both light distribution to match the architecture and also the spectral distribution of the color pigments with 40 high performance and particularly energy-efficient LED flutes ensures that the Chapel’s ceiling and walls are indirectly and evenly lit. If required, ten extendable LED spotlights illuminate the floor and the altar area, for example during a papal conclave. The system can be controlled with the aid of cellphone or a tablet, for instance. OSRAM went above and beyond meeting of the challenges that the team had been set, on time and within budget.
Like natural daylight
Annoying glare, which used to be the norm, is now a thing of the past. “The lights are invisible to the visitors,” explains Carlo Bogani, the OSRAM sales manager for Italy who also manages the customer relationship with the Vatican. “They believe that the light is natural, coming in through the Chapel’s windows.” And this allows for completely new perspectives in the Chapel, which fascinates 25,000 visitors every day. Professor Gianluigi Colalucci, who oversaw the extensive restoration works that the Chapel underwent from 1982 to 1994, said that the new lighting had allowed him to see the Sistine Chapel through Michelangelo’s eyes for the first time.