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This Italian icon suddenly looks different


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For more than 500 years, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in Florence has remained unchanged, the marble icon of masculinity and one of the most famous works of art in the world.

But as Italy emerges from the pandemic, the David has a whole new look.

A new lighting system has revolutionized the appearance of the famous statue, with small details visible for the first time in its history.

“A few days ago I noticed muscles on the body that I had never seen before,” says Lucia Lazic, a guide who visits the Accademia Gallery most of the time.

This Italian icon suddenly looks different

Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery.

Emilio Fraile/NurPhoto/Getty Images/Guido Cozzi

“I said, ‘What is this? How have I never seen this? The lighting is much better on the David.

Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia, said in a statement that the lighting had “changed the visual perception of the artworks”, telling CNN that David’s marble looked “whiter” and that the details were “more visible”.

The lighting – completed in September as part of work which was unveiled this week – was intended to bring the “dynamism of sunlight” into the Tribuna Hall where the statue is kept under a domed skylight.

LED spotlights were installed in a circle above the statue, allowing them to “completely envelop the David and leave the rest of the space in the background”.

The color of the light changes imperceptibly during the day, while the spotlights are of variable heat, allowing visitors to get a new perspective with every step around the statue.

You can now see Michelangelo's chisel marks on his Palestrina Pietà and Prisoners.

David’s new look is part of a wider revamp of the museum, which was the second most visited in Italy in 2019.

The Galleria dei Prigioni, or “corridor of prisoners” – named after Michelangelo’s four semi-finished sculptures of prisoners of war, which share the space with two of his other works – also had its lighting turned on, with several spotlights pointed at each sculpture.

“Before, prisoners looked yellow and David looked white. Now they are the same color,” Hollberg told CNN.

“Now you can see every chisel mark on them.”

The new lighting system, which “restores the right balance between chiaroscuro and color of the works”, is also energy efficient. According to Hollberg, the gallery is expected to use around 80% less electricity than in previous years.

It’s not just the flagship works that look different. Several of the other gallery rooms have had their previously beige walls painted in colors that maximize those of the paintings.

The Sala del Colosso, the first room in the gallery, is now a bright blue, while the 13th and 14th century rooms are pale green, chosen to bring out the gold used in most of the paintings.

This Italian icon suddenly looks different

This Italian icon suddenly looks different

Sala Colossus of the Accademia Gallery

And the new lighting everywhere has transformed the paintings of the things tourists used to scurry along the way to David, into must-sees in their own right.

“A regular visitor said, ‘Where were all those details? We never saw it,” Hollberg told CNN. “In a table by Domenico Ghirlandaio, you can now see all the gold points in the [saints’] halos. Before, beige walls flattened gold. In another, you feel like you can rip the pearls out of the picture – before you can’t see them at all.

“My job is to give value and visibility to all works. Every work here is a masterpiece, but the works die on a beige background – they need to be lifted and supported by the color. I want to give them what they deserve. »

The renovation of the Gipsoteca completed the redesign of the museum.

In the past, the lighting was so bad that some paintings were barely visible – like those next to the David. “Before it got dark, you couldn’t see them – no one stopped,” Hollberg said. Once, she saw a guide shining her phone torch on another painting in an attempt to show it to visitors.

Tourists have already changed their behavior, she says.

“Now they stop and watch. They are no longer all in front of the David as before. I followed groups, and they used to walk through the Sala del Colosso and never stop. Now I see this room full of visitors – it redistributes the crowds.

Lazic, an Elite Italian Experience guide, agrees: “There are more people stopping in the Sala del Colosso.”

The renovations, which began just before the pandemic and took place this year, ended with the redesign of the Gipsoteca. The plaster gallery was another quick stop. It’s like it’s open – with no windows open or air conditioning, it closes at noon during the summer.

But now, with air conditioning, powder blue walls and a new arrangement of the 414 plaster casts – mostly made by sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, whose works are in the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – c is a place to linger.

Hollberg says locals are also starting to appreciate the museum. “Before it was a space for tourists, but the Florentines are rediscovering it. We welcomed the last resisters with a series of concerts.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, called the reopening of Gipsoteca “an important step…to bring [the Accademia] in the 21st century. »

He added: “The work on the entire building has enabled significant innovations in systems, transforming a museum designed at the end of the 19th century into a modern place without distorting it.”

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