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Content archived on 2024-04-19

Environmental Research for Art Conservation


The overall objective is to provide a scientific basis for the preservation of cultural property by measuring the effect of variations in environmental conditions on cultural objects. This will involve the design of a molecular monitoring system. The concept is to use the changes in the chemical structure of the organic constituents of paint media to monitor the effect of environmental parameters and ageing on the deterioration of works of art.

We have established a group of laboratories at the forefront of research in the analytical science of complex structures and are working with major art centres in London, Amsterdam, Florence and Copenhagen. The objective is to improve the scientific basis for the protection and safekeeping of European cultural heritage by understanding the response of cultural materials to variations in environmental conditions in the micro climate surrounding the cultural objects. The idea pursued in this proposal is to use the changes in the chemical structure of the organic constituents of selected media traditionally used by artists as indicators to correlate the effect of environmental fluctuations with the extent of damage to works of art. To understand these changes we propose to prepare artists' materials in accordance with traditional recipes and to place them in a series of locations in museums and other areas of public display of art and use them as a risk assesment tool. This methodology could also be applied to evaluating the risk to art during transport on loan to exhibitions. Monitoring of the prepared materials will be carried out using both non-invasive and microscale analytical techniques for molecular structure analysis to elucidate the mechanism of degradation of the standard samples in relation to their physical environment. A description of the mechanisms of deterioration in these standard reference materials will provide a basis for understanding the changes which occur in cultural materials and for defining optimum environmental conditions to substantially reduce the rate of deterioration of works of art. It is known that certain combinations of temperature, relative humidity and other climatic conditions give rise to excessively large stresses in paintings and lead to visible microcracking and surface deformations. The nature of the chemical changes, however, are not understood. Information on paint media at the molecular level is required to relate the observed macroscopic changes to the irreversible changes at the molecular level. The need for this type of investigation is becoming more urgent given the increased level of exposure of art works to the public and the emphasis on cleaning which makes the fresh surfaces even more vulnerable to unsuitable environmental conditions.

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