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For over 500 years, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in Florence has remained unchanged, the marble icon of masculinity and one of the world’s most famous works of art.
But as Italy emerges from the pandemic, the David has taken on a brand new look.
A new lighting system has revolutionized the appearance of the famous statue, with minor 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 days.
“I said, ‘What the hell? How have I never seen this before?’ The lighting is much better on the David.”
Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia, said in a statement that the lighting “changed the visual perception of the artworks,” telling CNN that David’s marble looks “whiter” and the details are “more visible.”
The lighting – completed in September as part of works unveiled this week – was intended to bring the “dynamics of sunlight” into the Tribuna room, where the statue is kept under a domed skylight.
LED spotlights were installed in a circle above the statue, making them “completely envelop the David, leaving the rest of the space in the background”.
The color of the light changes imperceptibly during the day, while the spots are of varying warmth, giving visitors a new perspective with every step around the statue.
The new look David is part of a wider renovation of the museum, which was Italy’s second most visited museum in 2019.
The Galleria dei Prigioni, or “prisoner’s corridor” — named for Michelangelo’s four semi-finished POWs, sharing space with two of his other works — is also lit, with different spotlights on each sculpture.
“Before, the prisoners looked yellow and David was white. Now they are the same color,” Hollberg told CNN.
“You can see every chisel mark on it now.”
The new lighting system, which “restores the right balance between chiaroscuro and color in the works”, is also energy efficient. Hollberg says the gallery should use about 80% less electricity than in previous years.
It’s not just the headline works that look different. Several of the gallery’s other rooms have their previously beige walls painted in colors that maximize those in the paintings.
The Sala del Colosso, the gallery’s first room, is now a bright blue, while the 13th- and 14th-century rooms are light green, chosen to bring out the gold used in most paintings.
And the new lighting everywhere has transformed the paintings from things tourists used to run past on their way to David, to unmistakable in their own right.
“A regular visitor said, ‘Where were all these details? We’ve never seen it,” Hollberg told CNN. “In a painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, you can now see all the gold dots in the [saints’] halos. In the past, the beige walls flattened the gold. In another, it feels like you could pluck the pearls from the painting – before you couldn’t see them at all.
“My job is to give value and visibility to all works. Every work here is a masterpiece, but works die on a beige background – they need to be lifted and supported by color. I want to give them what they deserve.”
The lighting used to be so bad that some paintings were barely visible, like the one next to the David. “You couldn’t see them before it was completely dark — nobody stopped,” Hollberg said. Once she saw a guide shine their phone flashlight on another painting to show it to visitors.
Tourists have already changed their behavior, she said.
“Now they stop and look. Not all of them face the David as before. I’ve followed groups, and they cut through the Sala del Colosso and never stopped. Now I see that room full of visitors – it redistributes the crowds.”
Lazic, a guide with Elite Italian Experience, agrees: “More people are stopping at the Sala del Colosso.”
The renovations, which started just before the pandemic and rolled out this year, have been completed with the refurbishment of the Gipsoteca. The plaster cast gallery was another rush-through spot. That is if it was open – with no open windows or air conditioning, it closed in the afternoon in the summer.
But now with air conditioning, powder-blue walls, and a new layout for the 414 plaster casts — mostly created by sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, whose works can be found in the Louvre, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art — it’s a place to be. to linger.
Hollberg says locals are also beginning to appreciate the museum. “It used to be a space for tourists, but Florentines are rediscovering it. We have brought in the last resistance fighters with a concert series.”
Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, called the reopening of the Gipsoteca “an important step… [the Accademia] into the 21st century.”
He added: “The works throughout the building have enabled major innovations in the systems, transforming a museum designed in the late 1800s into a modern venue without distorting it.”