Editor’s note: Sign up for all nine free episodes of CNN Travel Unlocking the Italy newsletter for insider information on Italy’s best-loved destinations and lesser-known regions to plan your ultimate trip. Plus, we’ll get you in the mood before you go with Stanley Tucci movie suggestions, reading lists, and recipes.
For more than 500 years, Michelangelo’s David sculpture in Florence has not changed, the marble icon of masculinity and one of the most famous works of art in the world.
But as Italy emerges from the pandemic, 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 Academy Gallery most days.
“I said, ‘What the hell?’ How have I never seen this? The lighting is much better on the David.”
Academy director Cecilie Hollberg said in a statement that the lighting has “changed the visual perception of the works of art,” telling CNN that David’s marble appears “whiter” and that details are “more visible”.
The lighting – completed in September as part of the works unveiled this week – aimed to bring the “dynamism of sunlight” to the Tribuna room where the statue is kept under a domed skylight .
LED spotlights were installed in a circle above the statue, allowing them to “completely surround 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 warmth, allowing visitors to gain a new perspective with each step around the statue.
The new look David is part of a wider renovation of the museum, which was the second most visited in Italy in 2019.
The Galleria dei Prigioni, or “corridor of the prisoners”, named after Michelangelo’s four semi-finished sculptures of prisoners of war, which share the space with two of his other works, has also been illuminated, with various pointed spotlights to each sculpture. .
“Before it was that the prisoners looked yellow, and David was white. Now they’re the same color,” Hollberg told CNN.
“Now you can see all the chisel marks there are.”
The new lighting system, which “restores the correct balance of 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 had their previously beige walls painted in colors that maximize those of the paintings.
The Sala del Colosso, the gallery’s first room, is now a bright blue, while the 13th and 14th century rooms are a pale green, chosen to highlight the gold used in most the paintings
And the new lighting everywhere has transformed the paintings from things tourists used to pass by on their way to David, to must-sees in their own right.
“A regular visitor said, ‘Where was all that detail?’ We never saw it,” Hollberg told CNN. “In a painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio you can now see all the golden points of the [saints’] halos Before, the beige walls flattened the gold. In another, it looks like you could remove the pearls from the painting, before you couldn’t see them at all.
“My job is to give value and visibility to all the works. Each work here is a masterpiece, but the works die on a beige background: they need to be lifted and supported with color. I want to give them what they deserve.”
In the past, the lighting was so bad that some paintings were barely visible, like the ones on the David side. “Before it was all dark, you couldn’t see them, nobody stopped,” Hollberg said. He once saw a guide shine his phone flashlight on another painting to show visitors.
Tourists have already changed their behavior, he said.
“Now they stop and look. They’re not all in front of the David like they used to be. I’ve followed groups, and they used to cut through the Hall of the Colossus and never stop. Now I see that room full of visitors; it’s redistributing the crowds.”
Lazic, an Elite Italian Experience guide, agrees: “There are more people who stop at Sala del Colosso.”
The reforms, which began just before the pandemic and which have been launched this year, have ended with the renovation of the Gipsoteca. The plaster gallery was another place of passage. That if it was open: without open windows or air conditioning, in the summer it used to close at noon.
But now, with air conditioning, powder blue walls and a new design for the 414 plaster casts, made mostly by the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, whose works are in the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Art, is a place to stay.
Hollberg says locals are also starting to appreciate the museum. “It used to be a space for tourists, but the Florentines are rediscovering it. We got the last holdouts with a series of concerts.”
Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Minister of Culture, called the reopening of the Gipsoteca “an important step… to bring [the Accademia] in the 21st century”.
He added: “The works throughout the building have enabled important innovations in the systems, transforming a museum conceived at the end of the 19th century into a modern space without detracting from it.”