Archive for November, 2010
An article by (c) Cait N. 2000-2010
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Marie Curie. Albert Einstein. William Shakespeare. Pythagoras. Only a select few people in history seem to embody the very essence and spirit of the vocation they pursue. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was one such individual. His name is synonymous, not with the wonderful sculptures he poured his heart and soul into, but rather his one major painting commission, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Restoration of the ceiling has caused many art historians, and the public in general, to step back and take a new look at a work that has been around for some four hundred and eighty-eight years.
Painted between the years 1508 and 1512, the Sistine Chapel ceiling has been one of the greatest tourist attractions since the nineteenth century. The simple fact that the Vatican voluntarily chose to have the ceiling restored is amazing because for the last 150 years they considered the idea of any major restoration tantamount to sacrilege. The decision to restore Michelangelo’s frescoes was partly to celebrate the fourth centennial of his death, and also because glues applied to the surface of the frescoes by previous restorers was causing the plaster to flake and peel which, if untreated, could have destroyed the ceiling.
According to Vatican records, there was a darkening of the frescoes in Michelangelo’s own time due to dust and smoke from candles and braziers. As early as 1543, Pope Paul II hired a caretaker to look after, not only the ceiling, but also the frescoes done earlier on the walls of the chapel. The first restoration was done in 1635 by a restorer named Lagi. He first dusted all the frescoes and then scrubbed them with wadded up bread. It’s speculated that this only added to the problems with the frescoes instead of helping. Also, in the 16th and 17th centuries, rainwater seeped through cracks in the chapel’s roof. The water weakened the plaster, causing cracks and color loss. As the water evaporated, it left crystallized deposits of mineral salts that spell death for frescoes. A second restoration in the 18th century and subsequent minor interventions added layers of animal glue, varnish, overpainting, and resins. Dust from the over two million visitors to the chapel every year, and sulfur dioxide from combustible engines only compounded the problem. It was evident that something had to be done before the frescoes were obliterated entirely.