If today you are still able to admire the original colors that Michelangelo painted for his absolute masterpieces, the Sistine Chapel’s vaulted ceiling and The Last Judgement, you have to thank Gianluigi Colalucci, who died in Rome on March 29 at the age of 92. Few are probably familiar with his name, yet Colalucci carried out, as the master restorer of the Sistine Chapel, what has been described as ‘the restoration of the century.’
A very delicate work which took 15 years to complete (starting in 1980), and which contributed to breathe new life into the studies and research on Michelangelo's painting technique. At the same time, the restoration caused some controversy which Colalucci himself recounted in a book he wrote, Io e Michelangelo (Michelangelo and I), the story of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel.
During the course of his long career, Colalucci restored many great masterpieces in the history of art, including works by Raphael, Guido Reni, Lorenzo Lotto, Mantegna, Titian, Caravaggio, Leonardo, and Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
But the work on the Sistine Chapel was certainly his most important (and challenging) undertaking.
Colalucci’s restoration revived the original colors of what can be considered the world’s most famous frescoes. Hidden under a blanket of smoke, dirt and wax accumulated for centuries, the intense blues, reds and yellows Michelangelo used for his paintings resurfaced.
At first, the visual impact before and after the restoration caused some to criticize the result. To which Colalucci replied, “That’s what the Sistine Chapel looks like - not because it has been cleaned too heavily, but because it has been cleaned to the point that it has salvaged Michelangelo's painting. And that's that.”
“It is thanks to Colalucci’s courage and talent that today the colors of Michelangelo's ceiling and Last Judgment appear in all their dazzling splendor,” wrote the Vatican Museums, led by director Barbara Jatta, in a statement announcing his death.