Is Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling Under Threat?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


The Sistine Chapel recently celebrated its 500th Birthday, and along with a huge party, it also got a warning... it may soon have only a limited amount of visitors.

More than 20,000 people a day—that's 5 million a year—visit the chapel, making it THE MOST visited room in the world! That's a lot of people packed into a space that is only 130 feet long and around 143 feet wide (approx. the same measurements that are recorded in the Bible for The Temple of Solomon).

Though many of these visitors are respectful cultural-tourists, more and more they are "herds" of people who are there only to say that they were, know little about the value of what they are looking at, and have no qualms about using flashes to take photos (damages the pigments in the paintings) or even touch the work (NOT GOOD).

According to Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, "The anthropic pressure with dust, the humidity of bodies, carbon dioxide produced by perspiration can cause discomfort for the visitors and, in the long run, damage to the paintings." (From the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.)

The Sistine Ceiling             Vatican, Rome (by Michelle Duke)

Interestingly, if he were still alive, Michelangelo himself my not have cared if the work was damaged. He hated it.

In 1508, he was ordered by Pope Julius to redecorate the ceiling which pulled him away from what he loved most—sculpture. In a letter to one of his friends, he called the work "a miserable job" and wrote "I'm not a painter".

Not someone to do anything halfway, he mastered the fresco technique, and despite hating every minute of it, created one of the most iconic works of all time.

More than 20,000 people a day—that’s 5 million a year—visit the chapel, making it THE MOST visited room in the world!

So, with human breath damaging this stunning chapel that is important to the pious, the artists, the historians, and mass tourism alike, what is the solution?

Technology. Apparently the Vatican is searching for a high-end air purification system that will keep the work safe. Until a solution is found, constant restoration is the only other option other than limiting numbers or closing the doors of the chapel altogether.