Museo Egizio, Italy

23rd August 2021

The oldest museum dedicated to Ancient Egyptian culture, Turin’s Museo Egizio has recently undergone a renovation, with a new lighting scheme created by Belgian designer Chris Pype.

Located in Turin, Italy, the Museo Egizio is the world’s oldest museum dedicated to Ancient Egyptian culture. Currently, the museum preserves a collection of roughly 40,000 exhibits across its numerous rooms and galleries. 

During its most recent renovation, Licht was brought on board to complete the new lighting design scheme to complement the exhibits, but also be sensitive to the preservation of the artefacts on show. 

Founder of Licht Chris Pype brought a wealth of knowledge in museum lighting to the project, with a portfolio of works that include Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Egyptian Museum in Berlin and München en Medelhavsmuseet in Stockholm.

“In 2016, we were responsible for the lighting design for the Egyptian wing of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, Netherlands,” explained Pype. “We were able to realise this project with a great appreciation for the museum and its scenographers, Kinkorn.” 

As a result of the work they completed in Leiden, the Egizio’s Museum Director approached Pype directly to recreate the same scheme in his museum in Turin. 

Telling arc of his design concept, Pype said: “The atmosphere in the renewed museum was dull. Everything was immersed with the same source of light and there was little differentiation with many objects remaining in relative darkness. 

“In the latest renovation, the museum’s approach was rather architectural. The lighting design did not originate from the objects in the exhibits. Egyptian artefacts need a very specific approach due to their unique appearances. Monumental statues against miniscule amulets, carved hieroglyphics, light-sensitive papyri in contrast with light resistant stone or metal artefacts, sarcophagi with outer and inner decoration.

“I have focussed on the objects themselves and tried to preserve them in their intrinsic value yet provide a strong visual impact in all their aspects. In addition to all of these points of consideration, we also reduced the light spill to increase the overall contrast levels.

“The problem was the previous lighting scheme was too coherent. Instead, we have tried to bring more life into the spaces by building up distinctive spheres.” 

Due to budget constraints, the Licht team worked as much as possible with existing light equipment in the museum. However, there were some rooms that needed complete overhauls and specific attention to improve. “The grid of the existing tracks was too limited. We added extra tracks to achieve more angles to light the collections,” explained Pype. “For existing spotlights, we ordered other optics and accessories to improve them.”

Working within the listed museum building also presented some placement issues for the new fixtures Pype planned to integrate into the scheme. It pushed the team’s creativity to come up with appropriate solutions to the task, including bespoke options for the showcases. 

Using products from Erco, LED Linear, Luxam, Nemo and Viabizzuno, Pype and his team paid close attention to the sensitivity of a lot of the exhibits. To maintain preservation, Pype ensured the luminous intensity never exceeded 50 lux. With neighbouring pieces that weren’t as sensitive, lighting was increased to “give a punch of light to liven up”. 

“Individual spotlights with very narrow light beams and framer units were used to address these varied light intensity needs,” said Pype. 

Fibre optic lighting products were chosen for conservational reasons to illuminate the mummies on display, but also because they were able to reach the refined integrated lighting needs. 

“The biggest challenge were the many showcases,” continued Pype. “Internal lighting equipment would have been the best option but was no longer technically possible. The lighting from outside of the showcases was providing a lot of unwanted, distracting shadows from the edges of the glass cabinets, hinges and tablets. By choosing to light under the right angles with spots, we could reduce these shadows to a minimum.” 

Further lighting successes were proven at the sandstone temple, which has suffered a lot under erosion. Pype’s lighting solutions resulted in the re-emergence of once lost figures in the stone, and reducing the traces of erosion. 

Overall, the project was a great success and well received by those at the museum. “Due to the complexity of integrating internal lighting into the showcases, we could only implement these solutions in the showcases that really needed it. And, due to the scale of the museum and its budgets, we had to balance where we could have the greatest impact for the least amount of effort. 

“We were amazed at how powerful the medium of lights is once again. By a well thought-out approach, we were able to bring a new look and feel to the museum,” said Pype. 

Christian Greco, Director of the Museo Egizio, added: “Thanks to the new lights installed in the museum’s rooms and in the showcases, visitors are first of all offered the possibility of a closer encounter with the artefacts of our collection, as they can observe even the smallest details, such as engravings, bas-reliefs and hieroglyphs. The public can therefore enjoy a much more effective view of the Museum’s objects for a better visiting experience.

“However, this project does not represent a simple technical improvement. Having a closer experience with the museum’s artefacts allows the public to have a better understanding of the material culture of ancient Egypt, engaging in dialogue with an ancient civilisation that is still able to speak to us today through the biography of its objects, and to transmit universal stories.

“The artefacts of the Museo Egizio’s collection can then no longer be mute testimonies but a way to raise public awareness of the importance of the past, a key to understanding the present time and ourselves.

“The important work carried out by Chris Pype and his team is therefore not limited to the technical and technological components, but represents a distinctive element of how the Museum wants to relate to its public, fulfilling one of the essential tasks of a cultural institution like ours, as stated also in the fundamental principles of the Italian Constitution.”

Pic: Chris Pype