ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Da Vinci Goes Digital: Standards Help Reveal the Secrets of The Last Supper

New York, Nov 08, 2007

Each year more than 320,000 people visit Milan to catch a glimpse of the world’s most recognizable mural. Completed in 1498 in the dining hall of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper has a long history of neglect, damage, and repair. Even after a recent restoration, the painting remains so fragile that visitors must pass through a decontamination chamber before they are permitted to view it.

Thanks to a new sixteen billion pixel image, anyone with an internet connection can enjoy The Last Supper in high resolution, allowing art lovers to zoom in and linger on details. Using special techniques designed to protect the fragile mural, 1,677 digital photographs of the painting were taken in just nine hours.

HAL9000, a company specializing in art photography, faced several challenges in capturing the mural, including the development of a light source that emits as little ultraviolet (UV) radiation as possible. A measurement method from ANSI-accredited standards developer the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America helps restoration specialists prevent UV damage to artwork. IESNA LM-55-96, Measurement of Ultraviolet Radiation from Light Sources, applies to light emissions in the 200 to 400 nanometer range.

The technicians behind the new image, which is now said to be the world’s highest-resolution photo, also had exacting requirements for their photographic equipment. An American National Standard from the International Imaging Industry Association, ANSI/I3A IT10.7000-2004 provides guidelines for reporting a digital camera’s pixel-related specifications. Additional factors such as speed ratings, output sensitivity, and exposure index values are addressed by ISO 12232:2006, a standard from the International Organization for Standardization.

Taking a close look at The Last Supper is now as simple as clicking on a link, but many enthusiasts still value the experience of a personal viewing. Unfortunately, Milan’s air quality is raising new concerns about the mural’s continued preservation. Though dust and pollutants are removed from visitors’ clothing as they pass through the decontamination chamber, technicians have found that levels of particulate matter (PM10) have continued to rise dramatically in the church’s dining hall. EN 12341:1999, a document from the European Committee for Standardization, will help to continuously monitor the church’s air for any increase in PM10 levels.

For the time being, the mural remains open for public viewing, with twenty-five visitors admitted every fifteen minutes. When the inevitable restoration process begins anew, this landmark digital image will no doubt be of great value to future generations of art historians.

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