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What is Europe doing ?

To err is human

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To err is humanHuman 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.


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To err is humanWhatever 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.

Laser cleaning
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.

To err is human

Baroque trompe-l'œil
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'œil 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.

To err is human

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 and architects.

 
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