21. May 2015

Light is back
The new lighting for The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci met with the approval of experts from the lighting field

Text: Joachim Ritter

The existing lighting for The Last Supper could only be described as insipid and washed out. It certainly did not whet anyone’s appetite for anything, spiritual or otherwise. Not surprising given that the light sources used to light – or should one say afflict – da Vinci’s masterpiece in the Santa Maria delle Grazie Dominican convent were fluorescent lamps … And we all know that fluorescent light does very little to enhance the appearance of a meal, let alone the people sat at the table. In the last days of March, a special event was staged to officially launch the new lighting scheme for the wondrous painting for the public. Just four weeks before the opening of Expo 2015 in Milan, and two days before Maundy Thursday, state-ofthe-art lighting demonstrated that the historic occasion depicted, and the items of food on the table, can look as fresh as they would have done almost 2000 years ago. It is all a question of light, and in this case of digital light. Of course, we are not talking about the display of fruit and vegetables in a modern shopping environment, but about the overall atmosphere in a space in which, according to Christian belief, an historic event took place. At the Last Supper Jesus took bread and shared it with his twelve apostles, saying “Do this in remembrance of me”. The meal they took together thus became a symbol of his continuing presence in his community, and the words spoken and actions undertaken have been adopted in the Christian belief as part of the Holy Communion, sometimes also referred to as the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. The painting is very large: 422 by 904 centimetres and shows Jesus with his twelve disciples at the moment immediately after he had revealed to them: “One of you will betray me”. The painting is regarded as a milestone of the Renaissance period, because the accurate perspective depth it portrays had a tremendous impact on painting in the western world. The work was created by Leonardo da Vinci between the years 1494 and 1498, commissioned by the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza. And now the masterpiece has been relit in close collaboration with Fabio Aramini, who is Head of Photometry and Lighting Design at the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro in Rome (Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration). The restoration also incorporated retouching the colours. In the picture there are three windows in the background. The wall on the right from the perspective of the viewer is brighter, indicating the influx of daylight and the position of the sun. This therefore meant that this part of the painting needed to be more brightly lit. This idea was reiterated in the refectory in the monastery where the painting is. All except one of the windows in the refectory are shaded. Incident daylight can only be seen on the righthand side when facing the painting. When painting this masterpiece, Leonardo did not trust in traditional, resistant fresco techniques that meant the paint had to be applied quickly while the plaster was still wet. Instead, he decided to experiment with a new method (frescosecco technique) that would allow him to continue perfecting the details of the painting even after the plaster had dried. Unfortunately, Leonardo’s experiment proved to be far from ideal and the painting soon began to deteriorate. Over the centuries, this meant the painting needed to be restored on numerous occasions. In 1999, the latest restoration project, which took over twenty years to complete, finally unveiled what was left of the original painting after carefully removing the clumsy attempts at restoration made previously. The new LED lighting system brings richer colour to The Last Supper while also guaranteeing better light distribution control and correct conservation of the painting thanks to unchanging light levels and a consistent reduction in the heat dissipated inside the room. Thermographic assessment and spectramorphic survey values have been achieved that are 30 times lower than the levels stipulated by Italian and European standards for highly sensitive artworks. All the photometric, thermal and microclimatic values registered were conducted and certified by the Photometry Laboratory for the Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration, ISCR. The colour rendering index (CRI or Ra) is a quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to faithfully reproduce the colours of objects. In order to compare the colour rendering properties of each light source objectively, the standard CIE measuring method operates on a scale from 0 to 100 (poor to excellent). The Palco spotlights used to illuminate The Last Supper are equipped with continuous spectrum CoB LEDs with a high blue content and ample warm white light. The colour temperature is 3400K. The new lighting systems for artworks and their environment improve energy efficiency and reduce absorbed power (more than 80 per cent) by helping conserve these masterpieces in the best way possible. The decision to replace halogen lamps with new LED products has reduced the power dissipated by the system from 3400W/h to 570W/h.

Project team:

Client: Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici
e Paesaggistici (Commission for Architectural and Landscape Heritage)
for the provinces of Milan, Bergamo, Como,
Lodi, Monza, Pavia, Sondrio and Varese.

Lighting solution:

iGuzzini Research and
Development Centre, the Higher Institute
for Conservation and Restoration (ISCR),
Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e
Paesaggistici (Commission for Architectural
and Landscape Heritage) for the provinces
of Milan, Bergamo, Como, Lodi, Monza,
Pavia, Sondrio and Varese.
Electrical installation:
Tecnosaier srl – Lucio and Fabio Pironi.

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