The Sistine Chapel Enters The Digital Age With Huge Imaging Project


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMar 8 2017, 14:38 UTC

Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. Shutterstock

One of the largest and most famous paintings from the Renaissance, the ceiling fresco of the Sistine Chapel, has entered the digital age.

An ambitious digital imaging project to record the entire Michelangelo painting was unveiled at the Vatican’s museum in Rome last week, Reuters reports. Remarkably, the five-year project had been kept under wraps for the whole duration of the labor, with just a handful of experts and museum staff knowing about it. Photographers and engineers worked when the chapel was closed to the public for 65 nights, using specialized telescopic lenses to capture the minute details of this grand work of art.


The resulting image is a whopping 30 terabytes in size and shows the painting with “an accuracy of 99.9 percent,” even picking up on the brushstrokes within the paint. It’s currently comprised of 270,000 digital frames and will now be stitched back together in post-production.

"In the future, this will allow us to know the state of every centimeter of the chapel as it is today, in 2017," Antonio Paolucci, former head of the museum, told reporters. "We used special post-production software to get the depth, intensity, warmth and nuance of colors to an accuracy of 99.9 percent," added Giorgio Armaroli, head of Italian art publisher Scripta Maneant, who partnered the project.

The last project of this kind in the Sistine Chapel finished in 1994 when the painting underwent one of the biggest restoration projects it's ever had. However, as you can imagine, a photograph was barely comparable to today’s standards.

The fresco by the Renaissance master Michelangelo was finished in 1512. Its centerpiece, The Creation of Adam, has served as an icon of humanity’s relationship with creation and discovery, for religion and science alike. As anyone who has ever been to the chapel can tell you, the scale, skill, and grandeur of the artwork is truly awe-inspiring.


The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. Shutterstock

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