17 March 2013

LIFE: Sprucing Up the Sistine Chapel - Coincidence or ??

CHIAVARI, Italy – It might have been coincidence or maybe Pope Benedict knew the Sistine Chapel would soon be in the public eye again, but an order went out for the Sistine Chapel to be cleaned – all of it. It’s a project that involves more than calling in an ordinary cleaning crew with buckets and mops and putting them to work. Cleaning one of the greatest art treasures of all time is slightly more complicated than that.
 Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums
Thanks to modern technology, reaching the ceiling of the Chapel may be a little easier these days, but no less daunting than when Pope Julius II commissioned Michaelangel to paint the chapel ceiling in 1508. Michangelo and his assistants carried out the work with the help of a system of wooden scaffolds that had to be taken down, moved and reassembled as the work progressed. Today, a type of ‘cherry picker’ called a ‘spider’ has replaced the wooden scaffolds.  It’s four legs anchor securely to the floor as restorers and cleaners, armed with soft cloths, vacuum cleaners and brushes are lifted the 15 meters (about 50 feet) in the air bringing them face to face with Michaelangelo’s lunettes.

And that is how the dusting and cleaning of the Sistine Chapel’s two thousand five hundred square feet of painted surfaces began. It involved a dozen restorers of the Vatican Museums and two interns who later admitted how difficult it was to focus on just a few square inches of painting at a time and ignore where they were and the wonderfulness of the heavenly masterpiece of Michaelangelo around them.

The 'Spider'
Working only at night, the project took almost a month to complete, twenty nights to be exact. Historians have often wondered how long the first cleaning of the Chapel took, and how it was done. They do know that it was carried out by farm worker Francesco Amadori, who had been hired by the Farnese pope Paul III on 26 October 1543, which was exactly two years to the day that Michaelangelo had put the finishing touches to the Last Judgment.

One of Amador’s secrets was revealed in 1625, when gilder Simone Laghi was brought in to do some touch-up work in the Chapel. That is when he discovered that Amadori had carried out his assignment using a soft linen cloth and slightly moistened pieces of soft, crust-less bread.  
Cleaning Inch by Inch
Almost three hundred years and several botched restorations later, a painter, Francesco Podesti, was brought in to supervise a complete cleaning of the Sistine Chapel.  Podesti recommended that the frescoes be delicately cleaned using feather brushes, and if needed, soft wool, as they would not damage the colors, which during the intervening 300 years had been repeatedly covered with layers of linseed and walnut oil that had become as hard as enamel. The habit of covering the frescoes with oil, which began in an attempt to brighten the colors that had become dull by the dirt and smoke of the candles, was now replaced with the belief that a thorough cleaning was enough to preserve the frescoes without any other intervention.

The Chapel’s latest cleaning was a little more scientific in its scope. In addition to cleaning the walls, the crew also examine the consistency of the colors before them using a special ultra-violet lamp called a Wood’s lamp. This allowed them to see the extent of past restorations, touch-ups and over-painting that has been done. They also collected dust samples which were then sent to various scientific laboratories to be analyzed.
Cleaning the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
It was slow, tedious, back breaking work but no one complained. They all knew it was an honor and a privilege to be part of the team and everyone took their responsibilities very seriously. Their nights in the Sistine Chapel will be the fodder for many a story during their lifetimes, to be told over and over again, including the part about the party they threw for themselves when the cleaning of the hand of God that touches Adam infusing him with the breath of life was finished.

At the stroke of midnight, on the twentieth day, they took off their coveralls for the very last time, the ‘spider’ was closed and put away, and the Chapel emptied. Footsteps echoed along the deserted galleries of the Vatican Museums as the guards turned out the lights, closed the door and delivered the keys to the Sistine Chapel to the Clavigeri, the keepers of the keys.
 The Newly Cleaned Masterpiece
The Sistine Chapel was now ready to host the conclave to elect a new pope that would take place here less than two months later.

. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmNbecu1V6I  a PBS  video on Pope Leo X, the Medici pope who commissioned the painting of the Sistine Chapel. 

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