Pure Air Safeguards Priceless Works Of Art in the Sistine Chapel

With high pollution levels putting some of the world's most famous masterpieces housed in the Sistine Chapel at risk, the through new air purification systems

With high pollution levels putting some of the world’s most famous masterpieces housed in the Sistine Chapel at risk, the Vatican is hoping to save artwork through new air purification systems, The Associated Press reported.

The head of the Vatican Museums recently announced pollution in the Sistine Chapel have reached levels that may further damage its artwork. Recent studies indicate that the chapel’s almost 5.5 million annual visitors are adding to dust and humidity that pose a risk to various pieces of art, according to Religion News Service.

During the peak tourism season for the Sistine Chapel, 20,000 people walk through its halls each day – a figure that is three times the number of visitors compared to the last 30 years – bringing in dirt and dust along with them. In addition to Michelangelo’s painting depicted on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, the chapel contains the works of Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli and Luca Signorelli.

Restoration at the chapel last took place in the 1990s, with the frescoes ending up brighter than what Michelangelo would have envisioned, according to critics of the restoration. Director Antonio Paolucci was hesitant about having another major restoration. He said restoration is “traumatic” for the artwork.

“There won’t be any more restorations,” he said. “But maintenance continues.”

Air filtration systems help preserve artwork’s integrity
Instead of having another restoration, the Vatican Museums plan to maintain the integrity of its valuable artwork through the use of air purification systems. Paolucci said levels of dust, humidity and carbon dioxide are expected to be controlled through the chapel’s set of air purifiers as well as a new air conditioning system. These systems will be installed at what is usually the site of papal elections and should be operational by the end of 2014.

The Vatican aims to reduce the amount of pollution to a maximum of 800 particles per million. During the Sistine Chapel’s highest concentration of pollution, this level is more than 1,600 particles per million, according to officials.

While Paolucci said he was confident the new air purifying and conditioning system will help reduce the dulling and discoloration of the chapel’s artwork, if pollution inside the chapel is not curbed, the Vatican may be forced to limit its number of visitors.

“If this project doesn’t work, I’ll be forced to impose a limited number (of visitors),” Paolucci said. “But that would be a painful solution.”