New projects in natural sciences contribute to conservation of art

NICAS funding boosts development of tools for modelling and analysis

15 December 2015

Researchers at the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) have been granted NWO funding for the scientific study and conservation of art. The projects of Prof. Piet Iedema and Dr Moniek Tromp will be part of the research programme of the newly established Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS).

NICAS is an interdisciplinary research centre in Amsterdam, uniting art history, conservation and science. The centre works in cooperation with the Rijksmuseum (RM), the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has recently funded the first NICAS projects through the call 'An Integrated Approach to the Scientific Study and Conservation of Art'.

Modelling of polymer networks

HIMS professor Piet Iedema coordinates the four-year NICAS project PREDAGIO: PREDicting AGIng of Oil networks. In this project Iedema, together with a PhD student and a postdoc, will bring multi-physics modeling into the field of conservation. PREDAGIO comprises the development of mathematical models that quantitatively describe the creation and degradation of the microstructure of the 3-dimensional polymeric network of linseed oil under the influence of indoor climate conditions. 

Thomas de Keyser, Portrait of a man, 1631  Oil on panel. Amsterdam Museum

Thomas de Keyser, Portrait of a Man (1631, oil on panel, Amsterdam Museum). Black paint (not containing metal) is much stronger degraded than white paint (containing metal).

PREDAGIO will contribute to true mechanistic understanding of paint degradation, where formerly mostly phenomenological studies were performed. Knowledge about the creation and degradation of linseed oil is of vital importance for a better understanding of the current state of oil paintings and for the development of new, scientifically sound conservation and maintenance strategies.

X-ray spectroscopy of metals

HIMS researcher Dr Moniek Tromp, in a team with  researchers and conservators of the Rijksmuseum, was granted seed funding to develop the InCArt project: In-situ Ageing and Conservation Studies on Metal-containing Works of Art. This concerns the development of new characterisation methodologies and in situ instrumentation to provide crucial information on the chemical compositions and the structural and electronic information of metals and/or metal compounds in art works.

Silver candelabrum (Rijksmuseum) by A.D. Pijzel, 1842

Silver candelabrum (A.D. Pijzel, 1842, Rijksmuseum) with partly patinated stem.

In this NICAS seed money project the group will develop in situ cleaning and aging instrumentation to follow the structural and electronic properties of different art objects (paintings, metal sculptures and pictures) during different cleaning processes as well as during subsequent artificial aging, which might be affected due to the initial cleaning.

Characterisation will mainly focus on X-ray techniques, both at the synchrotron as well as in Amsterdam, using the lab-based X-ray spectrometer which is under development within Moniek’s VIDI project.

The knowledge obtained will enable the identification of efficient cleaning and conservation methods with minimal intervention, which is of invaluable importance for conservators and historians to safeguard museum collections for future generations.

Published by  HIMS