March 7, 1993, Yenching Library Auditorium, Harvard University
The Estelle Shohet Brettman Memorial Lecture
Walter Persegati, Former Secretary General and Treasurer of the Vatican Museums, International Coordinator, Patrons and Friends of the Vatican Museums
“Michelangelo Rediscovered: The Cleaning of Michelangelo’s Frescoes in the Sistine Chapel”

For nine of his nineteen years as Secretary General and Treasurer of the Vatican Museums, Dr. Persegati was directly involved in the Sistine Chapel Restoration Project. 

"Grime, dirt, lamp black, and glue have hidden Michelangelo's colors for centuries. A myth about the artist's unfamiliarity with colors and his voluntary veiling of his frescoes in darkness was thus born.

While as a sculptor he has reached us with all his original power, as a painter, Michelangelo was betrayed by the grime of centuries and by the well-intentioned restorers of the past.

The cleaning is giving Michelangelo, the colorist, justice at last.

Dr. Walter Persegati, former Secretary General and Treasurer of the Vatican Museums, will illustrate the cleaning with slides and a documentary film directly taken on the scaffolding during the actual cleaning activities.

His presentation will cover the following points, among others:

  • What prompted the Vatican Museums to start the 13-year cleaning project.
  • Research done before a decision was made.
  • What the grime is made of.
  • What techniques di Michelangelo use in frescoing.
  • Whether or not the painting was done in true fresco.
  • If ever the frescoes were corrected a secco by Michelangelo, and how this can be detected.
  • If the present cleaning is removing such touch ups together with the foreign matter covering the frescoes.
  • How the cleaning is done.
  • The discoveries made during the cleaning.
  • How come the colors are so bright.
  • How long the present cleaning will last.
  • Whether or not it was right to clean the frescoes.
  • Why a Japanese crew is on the scaffolding, filming the cleaning by Vatican restorers.
  • The truth about whether or not the Vatican conservators keep the Last Judgement covered because they still have not found a way to clean it, and why they covered the entire surface, in a way that was not done to the ceiling. 
  • Whether or not Michelangelo himself frescoed some of the pieces of cloth covering the pudenda of some figures in the Last Judgement.
  • The truth about application of color in the Last Judgement.
  • How the Last Judgement is being cleaned.

The slides will show unique cross-sections of tiny color specks and breathtaking examples of before and after. The film will tell the story of how things are done and will show the colors appear as the soot is being removed.

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