Claudia Lazzaro is a professor in the history of art and visual studies department at Cornell University focusing on the cultural, social and religious context of Italian Renaissance art.
“Millions visit the Sistine Chapel each year. A new system of air conditioning and filtration remains inadequate to counteract their dust, dirt, and humidity. A special vacuum cleaner to scrub tourists of their city grime is now under development. These modern measures contrast with the traditions of papal elections: the cardinal’s ballots are burned in a stove installed in the chapel, sending up the telltale black or white smoke announcing the results, but further threatening the newly pristine frescoes.
“Blackened with centuries of dust and soot from candle smoke, the chapel’s paintings were cleaned in an extensive campaign, completed in 1999. The restoration, controversial, but spectacular in my view, reveals the heroic prophets and sibyls in all their three-dimensional splendor, while the revived colors, some brilliant, have forced scholars to rethink Michelangelo’s artistic aims.
“Altogether the frescoes in the chapel represent the Christian view of history, from Michelangelo’s magnificent scenes of creation on the ceiling to the lives of Moses and Christ on the side walls, together with a succession of popes descending from St. Peter, the first head of the Church. Michelangelo’s Last Judgment on the altar wall, when all souls are reunited with their bodies, represents the ecstatic saved and anguished damned.”
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