31 Oct 2012

Vatican fears for Sistine Chapel frescoes

7:31 pm on 31 October 2012

The Vatican has indicated it may look at restricting the number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel because of the distraction created by crowds and fears their breath may damage Michelangelo's frescoes.

It is 500 years since the completion of the famous works have been described as one of the world's supreme sights. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo began work in July 1508 and the ceiling was unveiled on 1 November 1512.

In scene after scene, some of the Old Testament's most powerful stories unfold. At the centre of the vast work is one of the best known images in Western art - the depiction of God reaching out to touch Adam into life.

But for some, the room has become a victim of its own fame and magnificence who say it just attracts far too many tourists. Twenty-thousand visitors pour through the Chapel's doors every day; more than five million a year, the BBC reports.

Italian literary critic Pietro Citati recently launched a searing attack on the Vatican authorities for allowing in such huge numbers.

Writing in the Corriere della Sera newspaper he went as far as to describe the crowding on an average visit as an "unimaginable disaster". "In the universal confusion no-one saw anything."

The director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, acknowledged that there was a "serious problem".

Mr Paolucci said that the whole doctrine of the Catholic Church was set out in the images in the Sistine Chapel and that he wanted everyone who visited to be able to appreciate that symbolic system.

However, he accepted that that was not easy to do when the room is packed.

"It becomes noisy, people are confused, bewildered - it's hard to understand. Too many people make it uncomfortable ... and it also creates a problem for the conservation of the frescoes."

Mr Paolucci said plans to improve the ventilation and counter the threat from humidity in the Chapel would be unveiled soon, but said that, ultimately, steps might have to be taken to restrict numbers.