The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum is a glittering jewel in the crown of the University of Cambridge. Designed by the architect George Basevi, it is widely considered to have one of the finest museum interiors in Britain. One distinguished former director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington called the Fitz “the greatest small Museum in the world”. The Fitzwilliam Museum’s grandest gallery, at the centre of the historic Founder’s building, was restored to its majestic splendour during a two-year refurbishment project.

The main gallery’s Grade I listed ceiling, with its ornate plasterwork and casts of the Parthenon Frieze at lower level, have been cleaned, restored and repainted to reveal the crisp decorative detail. These reliefs, and a number of exquisite sculptures at high level, had been hidden in the faint light from the small lantern windows.

The gallery manages to combine its immense grandeur with an inviting intimacy. At eye‐level, the transformation is no less impressive. Gallery walls, clad in red fabric since the 1970s, have been stripped and re‐covered with a sumptuous new wall covering that echoes the colour adopted by Basevi’s successor, Edward M Barry, for the magnificent Founder’s Entrance. Masterpieces by Anthony Van Dyck, Daniel Mytens, Joshua Reynolds, William Hogarth and George Stubbs make for one of the most unforgettable displays ever seen at the Fitzwilliam.  

The careful illumination of such beautiful and important architectural plasterwork was vital, as it has been difficult to see let alone appreciate. Light levels are strictly limited to 200 lux, and due to the wide range of throws and piece sizes, flexibility of beam angle, position and intensity was critical. A fully addressable 48V Dali track was specified with Precision Lighting EVO 16 luminaires to combine the desired beam flexibility, individual dimming and scene control with a minimalist aesthetic which would not distract from the artworks. Precision Lighting spotlights are also mounted in the lantern to highlight the high-level ceiling plaster detail and sculptures. The Parthenon Frieze casts were brought to life by re-purposing, re-aiming and re-lamping the existing fluorescent cantilevered luminaires.

Location

Cambridge, UK