Preserving the artwork of the Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel
ROME, ITALY
Their popularity was killing them. Michelangelo’s frescoes on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel attracted millions of awed observers each year – and with each group of visitors came a new load of dirt, heat and humidity. The problem was made even worse following the Vatican’s recent meticulous restoration of the masterworks to their original brightness and stunning colors.

Removing centuries of candles soot, animal glue and ordinary dirt made the frescoes even more vulnerable to attack by moisture and temperature extremes created mainly by the daily influx of visitors.

The Vatican called on Carrier to design and install an air conditioning system that would let the frescoes rest in stable comfort while still allowing pilgrims from around the world to gaze at Michelangelo’s works overhead.

Combining off-the-shelf cooling and heating products with computer-based electronic sensors and controls, Carrier created a system that bathed the ceilings and walls with temperate air and humidity. The air is cleaned with powerful filters that remove chemicals and even bacteria-sized particles.

Visitors, meanwhile, are showered with a higher velocity air flow that keeps dirt and humidity at floor level. The system also allows the Vatican’s conservators to seal the chapel’s windows, keeping Roman car exhaust and the pollutants found in the air of any large city outside.

And unless you know where to look, the system is all but invisible to visitors and worshippers – no easy task in a building whose 400-year-old walls are 10-feet thick in places.