Illumination initiatives launched by Luce per l'Arte (Light for Art), a department of ENEL (the national electricity board), and ACEA, Rome's electricity service provider, are revivifying Italy's ancient past. In Tuscany, 14 churches are the beneficiaries of Progetto Lumina, devised by the local government's cultural department and Luce per l'Arte. Artistic masterpieces in the most important Tuscan churches are now safeguarded--and are shown at their best--by the new lighting.

Shown in a fresh light are St. John Baptistry and Cathedral (Florence), St. Francis Basilica (Arezzo), St. Cerbone (Massa Marittima), Montenero Sanctuary (Leghorn), St. Galgano Abbey and Monte Siepi Hermitage (Siena), St. Leonard and Christopher Church (Montichiello di Pienza), and cathedrals in Carrara, Prato, Lucca, Pistoia, and Pisa. The last of these is the largest Tuscan church, built in the much-imitated "Pisan Romanesque" style and started in 1064, predating the nearby leaning bell tower by 100 years.

The overall brief for the new lighting system for the interior of Pisa Cathedral was that it had to suit both visitors and church ceremonies. The flexible system enables lighting to be regulated and controlled in various zones as required.

The LD called in for this key project was architect Alessandro Grassia of Rome, whose studio's lighting designs include the interior of Como Cathedral, Santa Maria ad Martires (at the Pantheon in Rome), the Vittoriano monument and the main courtyard of Palazzo Altemps (Rome), and other challenging tasks like the huge Marmore waterfalls in Terni. Grassia explains, "The philosophy behind this design was to divide the lighting into numerous small units, rather than using just a few high-powered fixtures. A well-studied distribution of small instruments in even the most hidden corners of the cathedral enabled us to use the lighting according to specific events; moreover, low-powered lamps give higher color rendering than powerful ones. The fixtures had to have dimensions which were as compact as necessary photometric characteristics would allow."

To ensure that the system was as unobtrusive as possible, the fixtures which light the floor from above are mounted on automatic mechanisms and retracted when not required with a piston-operated system built by Pisa-based Moretti & Carpita. The metal structures, positioned at the level of the women's galleries, are fixed to the columns' bases with a series of adjustable rubber feet that enable the structures to remain firmly in place without any holes being drilled. This same system was used to mount the fixtures lighting the floor from above. The 61 circuits installed each illuminate part of the cathedral and can be switched on individually or in combination using a Contatto controller by Duemmegi of Milan, based on its bus connection setup with just four conductors: two for fixture power supply, and two for data transmission.

Grassia continues, "Apart from the inlay work, the floor of the central nave has no great artistic value, so downlighting is mainly functional; however, at a height of 84' (26m) above the floor (42' [13m] above the level of the women's galleries), the coffered ceilings of the central nave, presbytery, and transept have ornate panels with gold and light blue painted relief work. Here Erco Eclipse instruments with very high pressure sodium lamps [Philips White SON] are used for their ability to generate warm colored light [2500K] while maintaining good color rendering [CRI 80], often compared with candlelight as far as the spectrum is concerned."

The ceilings of the women's galleries are also coffered and have the same color of paint on the ornaments, so the same type of lamp is used. The four rows of side naves are rarely used by congregations during functions, but are often crowded with visitors admiring the works of art on the walls. In these areas, the floor is not lit directly, so even if the center nave's lighting is switched on, sufficient light penetrates to ensure the necessary visual comfort. Sill wide-beam symmetric display fixtures are used to light the ceilings of the women's galleries.

"Indirect lighting is used in the side naves," Grassia explains. "The light from Agabecov Louvre linear xenon wash fixtures strikes the cross-vaults, which diffuse and reflect the light. The works of art have their own lighting: Along the walls of the cathedral, the main body and transept illumination varies according to the objects. The paintings are lit with Erco Unipars with Philips PAR-30L floods, and although the same lamps have been used for altars and shrines, the difference is in the angle of incidence and beam width. We used 100W 12V halogen lamps, better than any others for showing the colors at their best [CRI 100]. We decided to emphasize the forms of the altars, shrines, and sepulchres by positioning Pro&Pro Genius fixtures in such a way as to light each structure from two different directions, creating a well-balanced play of light and shadow, using a narrower [18-degree] beam on one side and a wider beam to soften the shadows on the other."

In the cupola, a ring of 10 Philips SNF 100/100s with very high pressure sodium lamps giving warm light are positioned equidistantly on the oval dome cornice. Each instrument has its optics turned upwards at an angle of approximately 30 degrees, lighting the opposite side of the dome interior. On the two women's galleries, four more fixtures with circular optics are focused on the four main supports of the cupola.

The main altar and the apse semidome form the liturgical and symbolic heart of the entire building. Here the design had to create the most suitable setting for religious ceremonies, but it is also the area in which the majority of the cathedral's works of art are concentrated: The tribune of the apse semidome with oil paintings in the paneling (lit with eight Erco Eclipse 75581s); the semidome with the Pantocrator mosaic (eight Sill 710 projectors with 100W White SON lamps); the main altar in multicolored marble with bronze sculptures (two Erco Stella 73698s); the wooden chancel; the table where mass is celebrated; the presbytery's frescoed walls; and the gilded coffered ceiling (18 Erco Eclipse 75336s). The light is projected from the women's gallery in such a way as to avoid creating obtrusive shadows on the elements being illuminated.

Grassia stresses the importance of 3D CAD models in Progetto Lumina (his were created by Rome's Brunori-Pelletti Associated Architectural Studio). "This is a fundamental part of lighting design work nowadays. Besides being an initial vehicle for a concept, it enables us to present designs in a form understood by everybody. With a 3D model of the cathedral's interior, lighting effects could be assessed virtually, and the parties involved could see how intrusive the various parts of the system would be even at the discussion stage."

ACEA is no newcomer to monument lighting--regular LD readers may remember the article on its illumination of the Fori Imperiali [October 1997], and it was recently involved in lighting the cupola and facade of St. Peter's Square. Two more high-profile projects by the company regard world-famous locations unique from both an architectural and a historical point of view: Villa Adriana, and Domus Aurea. The former was commissioned by the Latium regional government, while ACEA was the sponsor of the Ministry for Cultural Activity for the latter.

Although Remo Guerrini and Danilo Cicinelli were ACEA's LDs for the Villa Adriana and Domus Aurea, respectively, both were members of a pool of technicians involved in the projects. This work group was part of the Public Illumination Design Unit, headed by Guerrini, who reports to Aldo de Luca and Umberto Montanari, director of the Public Illumination Business Unit.

Domus Aurea (Golden House) was built or begun in Rome by Nero after the great fire in 64AD: The luxurious complex included a landscaped park with an artificial lake where the Coliseum now stands, and woods and vineyards. Rather than a palace, Domus Aurea was more a series of pavilions. After Nero's death, the palace and grounds were built over successively by the Coliseum, the Baths of Titus, the Baths of Trajan, and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Restoration began about 10 years ago and has reached the Octagonal room, famous for having been Nero's underground banquet hall, and now open to the public.

As Cicinelli explains, "The new Domus Aurea lighting system wasn't designed with a view to accentuating any decorative details, but to ensure suitable illumination of the various rooms. We created general environmental and volumetric lighting, based on lamps with very low UV emission in fixtures with UV filters to avoid fading the colors of the frescoes on the walls and ceilings."

A total of 280 fixtures, for a total power of 31.5kW, were installed and the majority of the instruments set into travertine structures with finish and color laid down by the State Archaeological Service. The uplighting and particular form of the optics avoid maximum intensity being focused on the frescoes and light level measurements taken on-site indicated a maximum value of 25 lux at approximately 10' (3m) from the ground, where the frescoes begin. Multiplying this value by eight hours per day, 270 days a year, equals a value of 54,000 lux per year, an acceptable level to avoid any deterioration of the priceless paintings.

"Following an analysis of the main colors on the walls, we chose metal-halide lamps with a color temperature of 3000K and high color rendering [CRI 80+] to enhance the 'Pompeii red,' and the prevailing blues and greens," Cicinelli says. "Particular care was taken with the reproduction of the sunlight, which originally shone through the high windows of the eastern cryptoporticus and struck the inside of some of the lower niches. This effect was achieved by positioning Tecnolyte N9100/15 fixtures in the corridor alongside and pointing the beams upwards into the niches to reinforce the small amount of daylight that enters through the few openings--and recreate the original effect of sunlight through the windows in Nero's day, in reverse." The Ulysses and Polyphemus room has a total of 53 instruments varying from 35W to 150W, and the fresco set in the beautiful vault is accented by Ruud 35W 10-degree directional floods.

The entire system is computer-controlled, and before igniting the instruments the software runs various tests on all the circuits, warning in the event of any faults. A special photocell is connected to this system, which switches on the "sunlight" whenever luminosity level drops below a certain point in the Octagonal room (lit by eight 150W, sixteen 70W, and three 35W Tecnolyte fixtures, plus four iGuzzini 50W Mini Woody adjustable spots). The columns used to support the safety lighting are fitted with electric sockets to which the monument's restoration team can connect their tools; in the event of a power failure there is an emergency supply that powers the illumination required for visitors to reach the exit.

Adding Tivoli's Villa Adriana on the World Heritage List in 1999, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee described the monument as "a masterpiece that uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world." Considered one of the greatest and most sumptuous of Roman emperors' villas, Hadrian's summer palace was built between 118 and 134 AD and recalls the places which struck his imagination during his travels through the provinces: the Lyceum, Academy, and Poecile in Athens; the ancient Egyptian city of Canopus on the Nile delta; the Tempe terrace (named after the vale in Thessaly); and the Gods of the Underworld, as described by poets of the period.

The Canopo, the best-known area in the Villa, is also one of the most spectacular as far as lighting is concerned, with a total of 233 instruments illuminating its various parts: The structure's rectangular pool is surrounded by statues of a young Ephebus, caryatids, sileni, a warrior, and several columns, all reflected in the water and lit by 112 Mar.Te. submerged watertight fixtures with 100W lamps installed in the pond itself. The instruments are installed about 3-7' (1-2m) apart, which gives the statues' surfaces an ethereal, dappled effect.

Behind the statues at one end, there is a semicircular nymphaeum in the background, the walls of which are accentuated with yellow-gold sodium light from two recessed, ground-mounted Philips SBF505WS floods with 50W White SON lamps, and a series of Decoflood units: four SVF606N symmetrical narrow-beam units with SON-T Plus and White SON lamps, and 32 SVF616M medium-beams with SON and White SON lamps. Each of the four columns in front of this construction is lit with white light from two MVF606N narrow-beam units at its base.

The Canopo's perimeter is lit by almost 50 ground-recessed iGuzzini Balisage 7191s with twin openings which, besides indicating the path to be followed by visitors, also accentuate those columns whose bases are the only remaining trace; 22 Ruud directional floods light the columns still standing around the Canopo.

Almost every area in the Villa required a different type of lighting installation, as Guerrini explains. "The three-level Pretorium, one of most imposing parts of the site, is at present only partially lit, using Schreder FR3 wide-beam luminaires with Philips BPS 55W low-pressure sodium 1800K lamps, whereas several decorated rooms at the front of the building are lit with more Decoflood instruments."

The Maritime Theatre is a circular moat around an island on which there is a small villa with several rooms and an internal courtyard with a column-lined portico. In this area, other Mar.Te. underwater fixtures are used to light the moat and part of the ruins the water reflects. The building's rooms are lit from inside, as are the columns, each illuminated individually with a Ruud directional flood with 35W 18-degree lamps. The wall surrounding the villa is lit using Platek Mammouth J and Atlantique ground-recessed fixtures (with 150W and 70W Philips wide-beam sodium lamps) and Philips 616 Decofloods, also 150W and 70W.

To avoid excessive direct lighting of the paths connecting the various zones of Villa Adriana, it was decided in certain areas to illuminate the trees alongside with ground-recessed fixtures. For smaller trees, Platek Atlantique, and for pines, Mammouth J ground-recessed units, are used, with metal-halide lamps with a color temperature of 3000 or 4200K, the latter for trees with very dark foliage.

The attention to detail paid by ACEA and ENEL on their restoration efforts should keep the nation's architectural treasures lustrous well into the new millennium.

Mike Clark is an Italy-based UK journalist specializing in lighting and entertainment technology, and can be reached at mclark@rimini.com.