Pristine Sistine

By Nadeau, Barbie Latza | Newsweek, March 8, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Pristine Sistine

Nadeau, Barbie Latza, Newsweek

Byline: Barbie Latza Nadeau

Visitors to Michelangelo's masterpiece get a spiritual cleansing.

When Michelangelo started painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508, he knew well the chapel's importance as the seat of papal conclaves, but he likely never envisioned that 5 million tourists would come to see it every year. Soon those millions of visitors will have to pass through a chilly vacuum tunnel, effectively dusting them off and cooling them down to stop their dandruff, saliva, and sweat from destroying the masterpiece.

The state-of-the art cleaning system is being fitted in the foyer before the main entrance to the chapel and is expected to start sucking the dust and loose hair off visitors sometime later this year. The chamber will consist of a 100-meter-long adhesive carpet flanked by suction vents that will clean the bottoms of visitors' shoes and lift everything from loose skin cells to dandruff flakes from their clothing. The temperature along the carpet will also be lowered to chill the tourists to reduce the vapors from sweat that contribute to the grime rising up to the plaster.

Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci says that rather than controlling the number of visitors to help curb the environmental pollutants they carry, which he says is "unthinkable," he'd rather clean them off. "Dust, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide are the great enemies of the paintings," says Paolucci, who would also like to purify visitors' minds by incorporating an educational component to the cleaning chamber in order to also prepare them intellectually for what they are about to see.

The chapel, which features more than 300 intricate figures painted by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, and Pinturicchio, spans 2,500 square meters of ceiling and walls.

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