Museums Conservation Italy

Sistine Chapel to get even more crowded

A new climate control system could allow nearly triple the visitors to view Renaissance frescoes

The Vatican "is not MoMA in New York, but a palace that was not built to be a museum," two anonymous employees told El Pais

The Vatican Museums hope to see the number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel nearly triple, after a new climate control system is installed this autumn.

While it will be almost invisible to visitors, the switch to more energy-efficient and powerful heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology in October is expected to have a major impact on attendance. The Chapel’s maximum capacity will increase from 700 to 2,000 people at a time, Vatican Radio reported last month.

The increase in visitors has raised some eyebrows. Two anonymous Vatican Museum employees interviewed by the Spanish newspaper El Pais expressed concerns about the conservation and security issues the change will bring: “Look at how many people there are! Look at how narrow the hallways and the staircases are. This is not MoMA in New York, but a palace that was not built to be a museum. It isn’t great to see how the Sistine Chapel, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world, and where we are very proud to work, has become an uncomfortable place crowded with hundreds of tourists.”

The museums director Antonio Paolucci has, however, stressed the safety of the Chapel’s renowned Renaissance frescoes as the main motivation for the refit—the first since the 1990s. Improved climate control will “guarantee visitors the possibility of seeing Michelangelo’s masterpieces without endangering their conservation,” he said. The new equipment, custom-designed by the US air conditioning company Carrier, promises to reduce air motion around the frescoes, as well as controlling temperature and humidity.

Though it may get more crowded, the Sistine Chapel will also be much brighter from October. A new lighting system incorporating 7,000 LEDs aims to increase the illumination of the ceiling and wall decorations tenfold (from 5-10 to 50-100 lux). The design, by the German firm Osram, avoids UV light that could damage the works by Michelangelo, Botticelli and other artists.

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