Tailor-made lighting concept for the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main

The impact of art is created by the interaction of light, colour and space. Visitors to the reopened Old Masters collection at Frankfurt’s Städel Museum can experience this phenomenon to impressive effect. After more than a year of planning and renovation work, the 400 or so artworks on display from the 14th to the 18th century now shine in a new light – thanks to completely renovated lighting and a new colour scheme. In Zumtobel’s lighting concept, over 1,000 luminaires subtly enhance the expressive power of the works and even out the differences between the rooms with and without daylight, whilst also significantly reducing power consumption.

The collaboration between museum staff, Zumtobel and the exhibition design experts from Bach Dolder marked the first modernisation project at the Städel Museum on this scale for ten years. The aim was to improve the impact of the artworks and space, visually upgrade the side galleries and to support the Städel Museum’s sustainability goals with the switch to LED technology. ‘Our biggest compromise so far when designing the layout of the collection was the very different effect of rooms with daylight and rooms with no natural light,’ explains Katja Hilbig, head curator at the Städel Museum. ‘We wanted to achieve a good blend of daylight and artificial light, while finely balancing conservation requirements with the right atmosphere.’

To achieve this, Zumtobel changed the focus of the lighting concept: where individual works were previously accentuated by numerous spotlights, they are now artificially lit ceilings that mimic daylight, provide general room lighting with a particularly harmonious effect that encompasses the exhibits.

Artificial light that adapts to natural light

The concept was implemented in the top-lit rooms using more than 1,100 metres of TECTON continuous-row system luminaires. They backlight the striking glass skylights, ensuring a uniform lighting level – depending on the natural light conditions outside: ‘We want our visitors to be able to tell whether it’s a gloomy day – or whether we have bright blue skies,’ explains Thomas Pietrzak, head of the Technical Service at the Städel Museum. ‘But to make sure the rooms are never completely dark, a sky scanner adjusts the room lighting appropriately.’ The lighting system is controlled by the LUXMATE lighting management system. The 5000 K TECTON luminaires imitate the white colour of natural daylight. ‘Previously, the trend was to use cool lighting for exhibition rooms, but we noticed that our visitors found it too cold or excessively cool,’ explains Katja Hilbig.

Zumtobel installed its versatile OMEGA PRO2 LED panel luminaires from the Thorn range in the side galleries with no natural daylight. The lighting experts created continuous illuminated ceilings using 800 individual luminaires, which have an impressive effect thanks to tunableWhite technology, a particularly good colour rendering index of CRI 90 and their shallow mounting height. SUPERSYSTEM II LED spotlights and projection spotlights from the Zumtobel range have also been installed.

In the museum’s high halls, ARCOS III zoomfocus spotlights set delicate accents. Where extra lenses were required in the past, now a variety of lighting effects can be achieved directly. To display the Old Masters’ authentic beauty to the museum’s visitors, the Zumtobel team tested exactly which of the settings created the desired effect for each artwork. ‘We also used optical attachments such as oval outline lenses, as they gave us even more options,’ says Jens Lohse from the Zumtobel sales office in Frankfurt am Main.

It was also important to find the right light colour and to set this individually via a Bluetooth interface in the range between 2700 K (warm white) and 6500 K (daylight white). For example, this prevents gold leaf from suddenly appearing to have a pink hue: ‘The range of colour nuances we use at the museum is actually quite small,’ says Katja Hilbig. ‘An important quality here is that our visitors cannot perceive the different settings at all.’

'By switching to LEDs and implementing the new lighting concept, we expect to cut our lighting energy consumption by about a third’

Thomas Pietrzak, head of the Technical Service at the Städel Museum

Perfect presentation, sustainable set-up

The renovated lighting concept not only meets aesthetic requirements, but also the Städel Museum’s sustainability goals: ‘By switching to LEDs and implementing the new lighting concept, we expect to cut our lighting energy consumption by about a third,’ says Thomas Pietrzak, looking to the future. The museum will also cut costs thanks to reduced maintenance requirements: ‘Previously, we had 20–25 spotlights in each side gallery – and a huge maintenance workload.’ Today, selected spotlights complement the wide-area ceiling lighting.

The Old Masters collection is now a pioneer for other modernisation projects at the museum – with support and expertise from Zumtobel. ‘You can’t mass-produce light,’ sums up Katja Hilbig. ‘That’s exactly why we feel we’re in good hands with Zumtobel.’