Skip to comments.Technology rescues Italy's art (DaVinci's Last Supper crumbling)
Posted on 01/08/2005 7:56:41 AM PST by NYer
Museums may not be the first places to spring to mind when it comes to the uptake of cutting-edge technology. But David Reid finds hi-tech is playing an important role in bringing history to life in Italy.
The problem with Italy's antiquities and culture is that there is simply too much.
How do you conserve ancient and priceless artefacts at the same time as letting people come and see them?
Technology can help solve both problems.
One of the most pivotal images of the Renaissance, Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, is now so fragile that only a few people can see it at any one time.
Visitors file into a glass chamber at the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, while the pollution from the Milan street is sucked out and clean air is blown in.
At 500 years old, the picture is not enduring as well as it might.
Not for the first time, the work has been restored, but it is so fragile that the make-up of the air inside the chapel has to be continually regulated by a computer-controlled air pump.
But that is not the end of it. The wall supporting the painting is slowly collapsing.
Shored up with steel girders, the wall is wired.
Its vital signs are monitored around the clock with plumb lines and pressure pads so that computers can alert scientists to any drastic deterioration in its condition.
Giuseppe Ciolfi, the architect at Milan's Cultural Heritage, explains how the structure is designed to hold up the wall.
"It is set up with sophisticated sensors to detect any movement of the wall and to keep the environment of the room strictly under control."
Technology can also give scientists an alternative image of art and architecture.
Just as an X-ray can tell if a painting has been reworked, so infra-red cameras can shed a new light on how structures have been altered and, like The Last Supper, where potential weak points are.
This is important when you consider that in 1997 a chapel containing frescoes by the artist Giotto was damaged by an earthquake in Assisi.
This fate might have been averted had the cracks in its structure been detected.
Like The Last Supper, the climate inside the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua is kept free of pollutants and - despite Giotto's graphic vision of hell, which adorns the wall - radical fluctuations in temperature.
However, one of the main problems is keeping visitor-time to a minimum.
Curators give visitors a feel for the chapel, but if they want to ponder the paintings longer they can do so through a computer program that recreates the interior in startling 3-D.
It is a new take on high art that makes it much more approachable
Controlled with a key pad and mouse, the software allows visitors to navigate wherever they want to in the chapel, and zoom in to get a closer look than they can on the real thing.
You can jump up into the rafters to get a bird's-eye view, and you can also see how the chapel might have looked to Giotto when he first planned its layout 700 years ago.
It is a new take on high art that makes it much more approachable.
Antonia Recchia, the head of IT at the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, says that often, difficult and obtuse language prevents not only the foreign tourist but also Italian art lovers from clearly understanding a work of art.
"Our museum displays, although faultless from a technical and scientific point of view, have often failed by preventing people from fully understanding a masterpiece", she says.
But now, technology, while it is certainly no substitute for the real thing, can come to the rescue and help to conserve and enhance the most precious artefacts from our past.
Dang, but Leonardo was good! How could anyone imbue an image with such intense feeling?
The detail is so completely gone that you can see just as much in a newspaper photo as you can in person.
They were still allowing folks to touch the various masterpieces in their country.
You could walk right up and touch Michaelangelo's sculptures, and the Pieta was right out there in the open without much security.
I remember when the Pieta came to America....the security was extraordinary.
It was not a good wall to start with, and Da Vinci used experimental binders for his pigments, and it is sooo fragile...wonder if they will end up trying to put it on a new suface some day...
Yes! I did the same in the 70s. I was especially fortunate to visit Assisi and see those magnificent frescoes before the earthquake crumbled the walls that held them.
*I remember when the Pieta came to America....the security was extraordinary.*
Yes, again! It's now shielded by bullet proof glass.
Michelangelo is one my favorite artist - the 'total' artist. He could work with all mediums. He even designed the cupola over the Vatican.
Prior to sculpting the Pieta, Michelangelo was relatively unknown to the world as an artist. He was only in his early twenties when he was commissioned in 1498 to do a life-size sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding her son in her arms. It would be the first of four that he would create and the only one he completely finished. It was to be unveiled in St. Peter's Basilica for the Jubilee of 1500.
In less than two years Michelangelo carved from a single slab of marble, one of the most magnificent sculptures ever created. His interpretation of the Pieta was far different than ones previously created by other artists. Michelangelo decided to create a youthful, serene and celestial Virgin Mary instead of a broken hearted and somewhat older woman.
When it was unveiled a proud Michelangelo stood by and watched as people admired the beautiful Pieta. However, what was pride quickly turned into anger as he overheard a group of people attributing the work to other artists of his time. That anger caused Michelangelo to add one last thing to his sculpture. Going down the sash on the Virgin Mary, Michelangelo carved his name. He later regretted that his emotions got the best of him and vowed to never sign another one of his works again.
If you get a close up of Mary's head, place your hand midway down, across her face. You will notice that the upper portion of her face resembles an older woman, while the lower portion retains the image of a youthful woman.
Michelangelo remains a genius!
My own personal preference is Leonardo DaVinci but Michaelangelo certain ranks right behind DaVinci.
You might have heard the expression Ars longa, vita brevis. Well, "ars" may be "longa," but it ain't forever.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.