On 2nd June 2020, Palazzo Schifanoia, one of Ferrara’s hallmark monuments whose renaissance splendour has charmed visitors for centuries, began to shine again.
After the earthquake of 2012, the architectural restoration project to improve the building’s seismic resistance and then the Covid-19 emergency, part of this splendid palazzo has finally been reopened. This is the important and grandiose Hall of the Months, one of the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.
Palazzo Schifanoia is an exceptional example of the magnificence of the Este court that owes its fame to the Marquis and later Duke Borso d’Este who shaped the building in his own image. At the heart of the project is the magnificent Hall of the Months, which was decorated by the Estense prince in around 1469 to celebrate the actions of his government. This mixture of antique wisdom, astrology and political pragmatism was probably inspired by Pellegrino Prisciani, the court librarian and astrologist as a tribute to the golden age the city enjoyed during Borso’s twenty-year reign, from 1450 to 1471. The decorations were a collective enterprise that showcased the artistic genius of Francesco del Cossa as well as other masters, including the famous and very young Ercole de’ Roberti.
The new lighting system designed by STUDIO PASETTI lighting, recounts the allegorical scheme inspired by the politics of Duke Borso in a way that is surprising, dynamic and Bluetooth-controlled. Inside the Hall of the Months there is no natural light and the entrance and exit are obligatory. The new lighting system is based on a linear, floor-based system called an integrated linear module that was specifically designed by the studio and performs a range of functions. It is a support and base for the luminaires as well as a base for the screens that display scientific and educational material for the visitors.
To mount the technical equipment - i.e. the projectors - the sheet metal coated MDF balustrade module has a base on which 3 Low Voltage tracks are installed.
A number of different luminaires are mounted on these tracks. On the outer one - the one nearest the frescoes - “special” linear luminaires have been mounted at fixed intervals of about 90 cm. These are fitted with a Wall Washer optic that creates a homogeneous grazing light over the entire vertical wall. The colour temperature of 3500 K, used on all these luminaires is not a standard feature and had to be specially developed. This value was identified after numerous sample tests, as it balances the different ways the northern and eastern walls reflect the colours in the frescoes, where the pigmentation, altered over the centuries, tended towards tones that were too warm and yellowed. The high colour yield is guaranteed by a “colour rendering index” (CRI) of over 95 and also by the specific colour yield in relation to the frequency of the red colour R9, which is over 80.
The Pasetti studio’s design also required special louvres to be developed for the four linear luminaires that are located behind the entrance and exit from the Hall of the Months to avoid any risk of glare for the visitors.
Palco profilers have been installed on the central track to highlight the band of frescoes featuring the signs of the Zodiac. This includes a specially designed sequence of power ups. The third, inner track houses other Palco Low Voltage profiler projectors that emphasize certain details in the upper and lower bands of frescoes.
The most difficult task here was to adapt the flaps and optic unit to frame the form of the Zodiac band perfectly and avoid misshaping its geometrical perspective. This required great expertise as the light is projected from the ground upwards in a tight diagonal to a height of four and a half metres.
A major investment in research and engineering was also dedicated to the Lighting Designer, Alberto Pasetti Bombardella’s call for different forms of lighting flow that would adapt to the fading shapes of the details to be highlighted. To achieve this, a series of over 50 gobos with specific shapes were developed in accordance with the strict principle of anamorphosis. Anamorphosis is a type of pictorial representation that was very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. It uses a distorted projection to create an image that can be seen correctly from one viewpoint only and appears deformed and unintelligible from any other position.
The overall design has been developed to stage two reversible sequences that animate the frescoes in the three different bands depicting the divine, astrological and earthly orders. Everything is controlled by a Quick BLE control system that manages and saves power ups, scenes and dimming levels.
The scenes, which are divided between static and dynamic scenarios, have been developed in line with the concept created by the Architect Pasetti who based his design on the instructions of the curator and historian Giovanni Sassu.
There are two dynamic scenarios. When visitors enter the hall, the level of lighting is very low and the only light comes from the blue LED strip at the base of the module, where the power of the system is dimmed to 5% of its full power.
Then the sequence focuses on the band of the months, (the Zodiac details), which are recounted through astrological signs. The cycle begins with Libra and finishes with Aries. In this band, the Palco Framers fitted with a square shaper highlight each individual month with a light that increases in intensity for 4 seconds (fade in phase) and then with a light that lowers in intensity, again for 4 seconds (fade out phase). All this takes place very softly and gradually.
The Architect Pasetti focused his design on this soft light that runs over the frescoes, especially in the dynamic scenes that animate the works.
The same balanced and homogeneous light is also used when there are no guided tours. In this case, in order to provide a more complete and homogeneous experience of the entire space, the entire Hall of the Months is illuminated with a low light of about 100 lux. This is enough to see everything, including both the frescoed and faded areas. Many of the frescoes have deteriorated, in fact, as they were painted with a similar (dry) technique to the one used by Leonardo da Vinci for his Last Supper.
Last of all, the third scenario created with Palco framers, fitted with about 50 specially designed gobos, starting from Libra, emphasizes the details of the frescoes in the band both above and below the band of the months. For example, on the eastern wall, the visitor’s attention is drawn by a horizontal square towards a set of eyes that is watching them from inside a building or along a series of elliptic, diagonally-projected e’s towards other details.
There are 52 fixed scenes, which have been set to animate a dynamic interpretation of the frescoes, but they can also be recalled individually and kept for as long as required. This is a very useful service, especially for guided tours, as the guide can decide to organise the lighting order as they think best or according to the specific requirements of the group that is visiting. The designer insisted on including dynamic lighting, too, which is based on neuroscientific research. This has shown that moving from a general view to an individual detail stimulates a significant form of exploration in the formation of new synapses which help to form unprecedented neural maps in the visitor’s visual mind.
All these possibilities are created and managed through the iGuzzini Quick BLE app. A Bluetooth system is therefore used to control the luminaires and commission them. This is now a well-established benefit of BLE systems, especially in artistic and historic settings where new electrical systems cannot be installed.
Quick BLE is also extremely easy to use through devices such as smartphones by downloading the iGuzzini Smart Light app. This allows the luminaires to be dimmed and commissioned, and therefore makes both installing and organising the lighting project extremely easy for those who are responsible for systems used for cultural assets.
There is also the undeniable advantage of how easy this app is to use and how popular it is with visitors. During guided tours, the guide can control the various power ups directly on their smartphone. More specifically, a special “sequencer” tool has been developed for this project that allows the guide to interrupt the sequence at any time to listen to questions from visitors.
Then when they have given an answer, they can continue the sequence from where they broke it off and without having to go back to the beginning.
The “Sequencer” also allows the guide to skip forward or back in the sequence. This system therefore offers a lighting control method that is extremely easy for anyone to use and an effective way of narrating interesting facts about these paintings.
The use of digital systems, however, does not exclude traditional manual methods, such as switching the lighting on and off or dimming it. Scenes can be recalled using manual switches and museum operators who do not have the app can still turn the entire system on or off via a wireless battery-free switch located in a position that is not accessible to the public.
These solutions have been developed so that museum staff can operate the lighting system easily, but above all, so that visitors can appreciate both the artistic symbolism and the aesthetic perfection of the paintings. In short what they seek to achieve, to quote Vittorio Sgarbi, is “the light of the mind”.
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