Freelance lighting designer Alessandra Reggiani, a native of Rome, specializes in the cultural heritage field. Two of her latest designs are museum exhibitions that are both vital historically, but very different: the St. Francis Treasury Museum and the Perkins Collection in the Sacred Convent of St. Francis in Assisi (which received an Award of Merit at the 2000 GE Edison Awards, announced at Lightfair 2001), and "Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt" at Rome’s Napoleonic Museum. The former featured a newly-installed lighting system to exploit the beauty of the exhibits and the venue, whereas the latter was a case of modifying an existing system and adding a few suitable fixtures within a limited budget.
Explaining how she approached these two assignments, Reggiani says, "Other LDs involved in this field will confirm that one of the most important operations to carry out is on-site inspection and direct analysis of the dimensions and characteristics of the rooms involved as well as the potential they offer. This is particularly important when working with items of historical value, originally intended for delicate use, as in Assisi. The state of mind and emotional involvement of visitors has to be borne in mind, particularly in the Treasury; visitors have an important bond with St. Francis and the places consecrated to prayer in his name."
At Assisi, the museum’s Gothic Hall has maintained the architectural features typical of 1200s-1300s buildings. Although the majority of the priceless items on display are liturgical objects (chalices and reliquaries in gold, silver, enamel, and gems), there are also numerous paintings, sinopias, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, and ceramics, besides glass and wood objects and a large tapestry.
In 1955, the Museum received the Perkins art collection (mainly 14th- and 15th-century and Italian art). Almost all are tempera panel paintings, many with a gold background as was the custom in that period. Since, in this case, general and exhibit illumination had to be kept within certain limits for preservation reasons, the windows were covered with a special film which reduced luminosity and filtered harmful radiation without excessively modifying the spectrum of incoming light.
The main lighting system consists of 32 sections of Erco Hi-Trac compact H-section track, with double electrification installed alongside the arches and parallel to the longitudinal walls. These are fitted with the instruments used for both indirect environmental illumination (focusing fixtures on the vaults) and lighting for some individual situations. The overall lighting is via Erco Trion ceiling washers with Osram Haloline UV Stop 300W linear halogen lamps with adjustable asymmetric optics, ensuring precise uniform emission and avoiding troublesome reflection and uneven lighting on the side walls. The walls are deliberately left in the shadows, to highlight the exhibits in the niches and emphasize the room’s beautiful arched lines.
"Due to the delicacy of the items on display, great care was taken with preliminary calculations," says Reggiani, who lectures at the Lighting Academy in Florence, holds seminars at Rome University, and is the author of numerous study and research publications on color and its relation to light sources indoors and out. "First we chose the lamps according to their spectral qualities in absolute terms and how they related to that of the exhibit and those of the showcase illumination systems. The underside of the track is fitted with a three-phase power supply, with the fixtures used to light the exhibits not in display cabinets. Individually dimmable Erco Pollux wallwashers or profiles are fitted with GE Ceritite 50W 12V halogen lamps. Extremely limited space, the closeness of the objects to the lamps, the risk of light spill and glare, particular shadow effects, and microclimate factors were the main problems to be solved during the design stage, to ensure visitors saw exhibits at their very best. All containers were lit internally, making certain to insulate the lamps and their heat from the actual exhibit zones."
For the showcases, mainly containing smaller, more valuable objects, particularly gold and jewels, the LD opted for Philips fiber optics. For the panels containing large paintings and fabrics, she decided to use DeSisti’s GLEP units (Prismatic Light Pipes). The former offer spot emission, which can be adapted with lenses and various accessories; the GLEP units, thanks to their particular configuration, have continuous uniform luminous distribution and are available with 30º and 56º beam angles. Top and bottom fibers in the showcases have illuminators fitted with Philips Masterline 50W dichroic reflector halogen lamps; the 5mm-diameter PMMA fibers, chosen after comparison tests, have a transmission curve which ensures good rendering of all colors and are grouped in bundles according to space and the number and type of items in the case.
Fixed and movable recessed terminals were custom-made for the project and proved particularly useful for lighting the numerous chalices of various shapes and sizes. Movable terminals used a standard system, but proportions were changed and the mounting base reduced for the fixed ones. A very small device was designed to direct the fibers’ emission (attenuated by a small internal folding reflector bar) at an adjustable height, controlling glare. The terminals on both types are screwed onto the end of the cable, allowing precise positioning; where necessary, the movable terminals were fitted with polycarbonate and glass lenses with 15º, 30º, and 45º beams.
Light Without Heat
The panels were lit with DeSisti’s GLEP, positioned vertically or horizontally along the cases’ glazed surfaces. These light guides (based on the phenomenon of total internal reflection) comprise a 30mm-diameter cylindrical bar of cast polycarbonate with a linear transmittance curve in the visible spectrum, a big cut in UV emission zones, and almost total elimination of IR emission. To give direct and not diffused light emission, these units have a continuous series of minuscule "spots" created by high-precision etched microprisms in the unit’s body, whose different shapes give various beam angles. A 35W dichro lamp with an 8º beam angle is fitted in a ventilated lampholder at either end of the bars. Says Reggiani, "These bars give a particularly pure bright light, and since they transmit absolutely no heat can be installed very close up, emphasizing the color qualities and surface texture of the illuminated items to the utmost."
The illumination of two large wooden works exhibited on a pedestal used different techniques: uplighting with two 10W Erco Uplight fixtures with dichro lamps for San Bernardino’s standard, and fiber optics from below and a profile from above for the Alessi Tabernacle, creating an eye-catching shadow effect on the wall and giving the exhibit more depth.
In the Perkins Room, a new false ceiling made of plasterboard is used to support the general room lighting system consisting of Siemens Sinario wallwash fixtures with asymmetric optics and Philips TLD Super 90 58W linear fluorescent lamps. This is connected to a system that controls the illumination according to the amount of natural light in the room.
Reggiani explains, "The use of dimmed 3800K lamps enabled us to obtain a very particular tone of light, ideal for accentuating the various areas of the room itself and helping focus visitors’ attention on the exhibits. Here too the items on display are illuminated using DeSisti’s GLEP, normally two instruments per case, fitted along the horizontal or vertical edges according to the size of the exhibit. Visually, this type of system gave us uniform, scenographic lighting able to bring out the features of the exhibit and colors to their best advantage, and at the same time guarantee the preservation of the historic items on show, thanks to the indirect, filtered light emission and the fact that they don’t produce any heat."
A Napoleonic Campaign
The Rome exhibition was a temporary project in a smaller, lesser-known museum, with a much smaller budget. But Reggiani says, "The temporary aspect was secondary, as I tried to take advantage of the opportunity to improve the lighting system and the lamps already used, which were often inadequate or unsuitable. As often happens, this was a historically important building adapted for the current use, not a purpose-built venue: The rooms aren’t very large, and besides furniture contain a varied collection of exhibits (miniatures, coins, clothes, weapons, ceramics, crystal, and documents) mainly kept in vertical or flat showcases, plus paintings, drawings, and maps of varying sizes on the walls."
The brief was to illuminate the rooms that had been rearranged for the exhibition in such a way as to make viewing pleasant but also to safeguard the conditions of the items on display, particularly those made from paper. The lighting track already in the rooms is no longer manufactured, so finding extra fixtures would have been a long, difficult job.
"This meant working with what was available--Tecnolyte Targa Concord, which I fitted with GE Precise ConstantColor 20W dichro lamps and GE Ceritite halogen lamps of various powers (20W, 35W, and 50W), studying the best positioning, lamp power, and beam angle, and adding extra floor lamps where necessary," says the LD. "Another problem was caused by the huge chandeliers, which were disturbing both aesthetically and visually--they create excessive light in the rooms, plus shadows and reflections, and raise the total heat level. When we decided it was out of the question to leave them off or remove the lamps, Relco Omega dimmers were fitted on the control panel for all the ‘historical’ fixtures. This was done for all the other rooms, and it was a decided improvement--the filaments of the candle lamps become red when set at minimum, making them much more similar to real candles."
The iGuzzini Cestello floor lamps used were made in a custom height (380cm, 12.5') and color (anthracite gray) for this project. Each was fitted with six QRIII halogen lamps and built-in reflector. Here dimmers were used again, as 50W lamps were fitted for their wider (24º) beam, but exceeded the 50 lux required on the walls.
Reggiani adds, "Some track-mounted fixtures were fitted with small, adjustable opaline Plexiglas screens to give a light wash on the ceiling. The most time-consuming and delicate part of the job was positioning and calibrating the fixtures, with measurement instruments at the ready--the British and French owners of the majority of the items on display, in particular the most delicate ones such as the pencil drawings, requested very precise guarantees and often took part in my tests.
"Linear fluorescent tubes in two wall-mounted showcases were replaced with a fiber-optic system similar to that used in Assisi to improve preservation and viewing, favoring the sense of depth of the items on display," the LD says. "Even with numerous difficulties and compromises, it was acceptable visually and from a preservation point of view."
She concludes, "When you light items of cultural value, you’re not only expected to give the best of your competence and professionalism, you also have great responsibility for the visitors, who use the results of your work to increase their own knowledge, and better understand the importance of lighting."
APIL: Associazione Professionisti dell’Illuminazione
Reggiani is a member of APIL (Associazione Professionisti dell’Illuminazione), a recently formed association of Italy-based professionals working in the lighting design field. The organization was founded by a group of lighting professionals working throughout Italy, members of their respective professional orders, and members of AIDI (Italian Lighting Association). APIL takes its place alongside other representative bodies in Europe and further afield, and collaborates with them on common promotion and development programs.
The current APIL chairman, Pietro Palladino of Milan’s Ferrara Palladino & Partners Lighting Engineering and Design, says, "The association was formed to satisfy a long-unsolved need for qualified planning and design of everything required for the illumination of indoor or outdoor environments or works of art."
With this in mind, APIL intends to gain recognition for highly specialized "Illumination Professionals" (or, more simply, LDs). Says Palladino, "The role of the independent professional must be safeguarded, not only at the institutional level, but also by a free association that watches over its members’ work and organizes ways of showing it off to its best advantage, as well as contributing to their professional and cultural growth."
Besides promoting the profession of lighting design, particularly at the school and university level, APIL is contacting LDs interested in finding new opportunities and outlets, free from the traditional schemes followed by official institutions for professions like architects and engineers. APIL intends to represent throughout Italy (and for any cultural exchanges) professionals whose work is carried out in an autonomous, independent, and neutral manner (with the exclusion, explicitly declared in the clauses of the association’s statute, of all those who are part of companies or employed by them) or who handle any design or consultancy work as a secondary activity that is intended to back up the sale or promotion of products and systems related to lighting.
Membership is open to LDs in various sectors: town and country public outdoor lighting design and planning; design in all indoor and outdoor civic environments; and consultancy for organizations and companies with analysis and study of material, devices, instruments, components, communications systems, measurement, checks, tests, and compliance with norms and laws.
To join the association, candidates must in part submit to the committee a résumé showing the most important work carried out in the lighting design field. Palladino concludes, "Our association, which currently has 28 members (most in architectural lighting), is not in any way involved with the political aspects of professional associations, but rather the cultural, informative, and professional sectors. Conferences and seminars will be organized with authoritative Italian and foreign speakers, and will be held at institutions like the Lighting Academy in Florence."
Mike Clark is an Italy-based UK journalist specializing in lighting and entertainment technology, and can be reached at email@example.com.