Last month this column commented on the possibility that the Vatican would limit access to the 20,000 tourists who crowd the Sistine Chapel each day. http://www.examiner.com/article/male-nudity-on-the-rise-art The heat and dirt they trek in add grime to Michelangelo’s frescoes. Two years ago, restorers had to scrub away heavy layers.
Surely something needs to be done to save this art, if for no other reason than to honor Michelangelo’s herculean effort to make it. "After four tortured years (rendering), more than 400 over life-size figures,” he wrote, “I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognize the old man I had become."
The big reason, of course, is that the chapel frescoes are a religious experience and one that could dim in time.
Good news, art lovers! Our access won’t be limited after all. Antonio Paolucci Director of the Vatican Museums told the press that limiting the number of visitors is “unthinkable.” Instead, by the end of 2013, all tourists will be “dusted, cleaned and chilled” before entry:
"We will cover the 100 meters (110-yards) before the entrance with a carpet that cleans shoes. We will install suction vents on the sides to suck dust from clothes and we will lower temperatures to reduce the heat and humidity of bodies. Dust, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide are the great enemies of the paintings."
Translation: the enemies are us. .
To protect that other colossal tourist attraction from us - the Louvre’s “Mona Lisa” - it’s encased in an air-conditioned box of Triplex glass. We have to peer through a glass case past our own reflection to see her famous smile.
Such drastic measures are surely needed. Speaking of the art in Sistine Chapel, British art critic Robert Hughes noted Goethe’s account of going to the Chapel some 200 years ago - "where one could be alone, or nearly so, with the products of genius.
“The very idea seems absurd, today; a fantasy. Mass tourism has turned what was a contemplative pleasure for Goethe's contemporaries into an ordeal more like a degrading rugby scrum - a kind of living death for high culture - at the hands of mass culture.”
But he was asking for more than protecting the work when he added that painting art was a soundless art that warranted soundless viewing.
Maybe there needs to be a “No Talking” sign, too.