beings do not take very good care of themselves and even less care of
what has been handed down to them. In towns, where 80% of Europeans
live, atmospheric pollution blackens and erodes stonework, corrupts
metals and causes paint to deteriorate. Archaeological remains still
hidden underground are almost everywhere attacked by waste water infiltration.
In an attempt to repair the most visible damage, the methods used to
restore monuments have very often done (and still do) more harm than
good because of a lack of options based on scientific research. Museums
have hardly fared better. The works of art contained in them suffered
(and still suffer) from harsh lighting, sudden temperature changes and
badly designed air conditioning systems. Poor conservation conditions
continue to dry out pigments, cause parchment and wood to rot, and promote
the development of harmful micro-organisms. The popularity of some places
and the impact of "cultural tourism" give rise to new problems
when the flow of visitors is not controlled.
Is this too bleak a picture? Many European scientists and decision-makers
think that it is realistic. Luckily, the alarm that they have sounded
is being increasingly heeded.
the environment, the type of damage or the material, the first thing
to do is to understand the reasons for the damage. There is often a
need to look beyond the most obvious reasons. Causes rarely have a single
origin and once again an inter-disciplinary and international approach
proves to be indispensable.
Scientists can only suggest remedies when the origins of the damage
have been established. Then they devise prevention strategies, such
as regulating the flow of visitors, moving a source of heat, changing
the lighting intensity, etc. Their expertise enables architects and
those responsible for preserving and managing items of heritage to present
them in the best conditions. Sometimes all that is needed is to replace
a carpet (a bacterial trap) by a wooden floor or to move the cafeteria
of a museum to another place to cut down on the factors which attack
works of art.
Restoration work has also been studied in minute detail by researchers.
It is in cooperation with researchers that new, "gentle" methods
have been launched. These techniques, which are non-destructive, also
have the major advantage of being both reversible and kind to the originals.
Their purpose is to protect rather than to repair.
Being particularly fragile, paintings are prime benefeciaries of a
new laser technology which makes it possible to clean delicate surfaces.
Unlike traditional methods, the light beam operates from a distance
and does not enter into contact with the works. The laser, which is
perfectly controllable and particularly easy to manipulate, was developed
by SMEs in cooperation with high-level research centres and can remove
soiled varnishes, dust, superimposed layers of paint etc.
A team of Belgian, German, Austrian and Polish chemists has gone over
the remarkable baroque monument of the Chapel of the Dukes at Krzeszów
Abbey (Poland) with a fine-tooth comb. The analysis of these "fake
marbles" (trompe-l'il painting and ornamental stucco work),
preserved in their original state, has made it possible to apply measures
to preserve them and also to learn lessons which will benefit other
monuments of this style which spread widely across Europe.
The air inside museums
The environments of four European museums (in Venice, Vienna, Antwerp
and Norwich) were tested and compared by a team of European physicists,
chemists and biologists. This multidisciplinary examination determined
variations in temperatures and humidity, the dispersion of chemical
pollutants, movements of air masses and the role of light in some of
their rooms. A study of the impact of the original design of the building,
the technologies used (lighting, heating, air conditioning, humidifying,
etc.) and of visitor flows led to the formation of a number of guidelines
for preservation and presentation which are indispensable for conservators