Museum lighting with dynamic white

Written by Matthijs Keuper, CEO of Invisua Lighting

I was recently at a museum in the heart of Rome for a pilot project with our Invisua Masterspot system.

The museum holds an exquisite, privately owned art collection and is not open for the public. Instead, small groups of privileged guests are given tours. The guide carries a tablet that displays all artwork in the room. All lights are dimmed except for one spot on the artwork that the guide wants to talk about. With a touch on the tablet, the spot dims slowly and another one lights up, highlighting another artwork . It is a very powerful, immersive experience.

During the install, I had an interesting discussion with the curator. As our system allows full control of colour temperature, I asked her what colour temperature she wanted to use for a specific artwork. “2700K” was her firm answer, as that was the colour temperature of the previously installed fixtures. The artwork, a painting from around 1720, showing a perfect perspective view of the Saint Peter square in broad daylight with scattered clouds, looked perfectly fine in that colour.

I then asked the curator whether she knew if the artist painted this on-site or perhaps in his atelier. She didn’t know and asked me why. I then showed her what the painting might have looked like under the lighting conditions when it was painted. We changed colour temperatures, going as low as 1800K (candle light) and as high as 10000K (overcast sky). The painting looked completely different every time. Obviously, the reds came out better in the warmer colours, while the blue sky looked more fresh under cooler colours. Slowly fading between the colour temperatures created the feeling of clouds passing by the sun, which perfectly matched the actual scene. We were both amazed how the different lighting made you ‘feel’ about the artwork. With warmer colours you feel you’re experiencing the scene, while cooler colours make you feel more of a distant observer. In the end, we chose a colour temperature of around 3500K, quite a bit cooler than original, but it seemed to fit the factual style of the painting much better.

The set-up of this museum, with typically only one piece of art highlighted at any time, makes it possible to optimize the colour temperature for each artwork in the room, which is precisely what we did.

It was our first foray into museum lighting. But, given the results, it will certainly not be the last.

Note that the video below does not do justice to the actual experience…