Tag Archives: art conservation

News from the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) 2020, the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) 2020, and HotPopRobot

I have some news about conserving art; early bird registration deadlines for two events, and, finally, an announcement about contest winners.

Canadian Light Source (CLS) and modern art

Rita Letendre. Victoire [Victory], 1961. Oil on canvas, Overall: 202.6 × 268 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Jessie and Percy Waxer, 1974, donated by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1988. © Rita Letendre L74.8. Photography by Ian Lefebvre

This is one of three pieces by Rita Letendre that underwent chemical mapping according to an August 5, 2020 CLS news release by Victoria Martinez (also received via email),

Research undertaken at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan was key to understanding how to conserve experimental oil paintings by Rita Letendre, one of Canada’s most respected living abstract artists.

The work done at the CLS was part of a collaborative research project between the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) that came out of a recent retrospective Rita Letendre: Fire & Light at the AGO. During close examination, Meaghan Monaghan, paintings conservator from the Michael and Sonja Koerner Centre for Conservation, observed that several of Letendre’s oil paintings from the fifties and sixties had suffered significant degradation, most prominently, uneven gloss and patchiness, snowy crystalline structures coating the surface known as efflorescence, and cracking and lifting of the paint in several areas.

Kate Helwig, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Canadian Conservation Institute, says these problems are typical of mid-20th century oil paintings. “We focused on three of Rita Letendre’s paintings in the AGO collection, which made for a really nice case study of her work and also fits into the larger question of why oil paintings from that period tend to have degradation issues.”

Growing evidence indicates that paintings from this period have experienced these problems due to the combination of the experimental techniques many artists employed and the additives paint manufacturers had begun to use.

In order to determine more precisely how these factors affected Letendre’s paintings, the research team members applied a variety of analytical techniques, using microscopic samples taken from key points in the works.

“The work done at the CLS was particularly important because it allowed us to map the distribution of materials throughout a paint layer such as an impasto stroke,” Helwig said. The team used Mid-IR chemical mapping at the facility, which provides a map of different molecules in a small sample.

For example, chemical mapping at the CLS allowed the team to understand the distribution of the paint additive aluminum stearate throughout the paint layers of the painting Méduse. This painting showed areas of soft, incompletely dried paint, likely due to the high concentration and incomplete mixing of this additive. 

The painting Victoire had a crumbling base paint layer in some areas and cracking and efflorescence at the surface in others.  Infrared mapping at the CLS allowed the team to determine that excess free fatty acids in the paint were linked to both problems; where the fatty acids were found at the base they formed zing “soaps” which led to crumbling and cracking, and where they had moved to the surface they had crystallized, causing the snowflake-like efflorescence.

AGO curators and conservators interviewed Letendre to determine what was important to her in preserving and conserving her works, and she highlighted how important an even gloss across the surface was to her artworks, and the philosophical importance of the colour black in her paintings. These priorities guided conservation efforts, while the insights gained through scientific research will help maintain the works in the long term.

In order to restore the black paint to its intended even finish for display, conservator Meaghan Monaghan removed the white crystallization from the surface of Victoire, but it is possible that it could begin to recur. Understanding the processes that lead to this degradation will be an important tool to keep Letendre’s works in good condition.

“The world of modern paint research is complicated; each painting is unique, which is why it’s important to combine theoretical work on model paint systems with this kind of case study on actual works of art” said Helwig. The team hopes to collaborate on studying a larger cross section of Letendre’s paintings in oil and acrylic in the future to add to the body of knowledge.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Rita Letendre’s Oil Paintings from the 1960s: The Effect of Artist’s Materials on Degradation Phenomena by Kate Helwig, Meaghan Monaghan, Jennifer Poulin, Eric J. Henderson & Maeve Moriarty. Studies in Conservation (2020): 1-15 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00393630.2020.1773055 Published online: 06 Jun 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) 2020

The latest news from the CSPC 2020 (November 16 – 20 with preconference events from Nov. 1 -14) organizers is that registration is open and early birds have a deadline of September 27, 2020 (from an August 6, 2020 CSPC 2020 announcement received via email),

It’s time! Registration for the 12th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2020) is open now. Early Bird registration is valid until Sept. 27th [2020].

CSPC 2020 is coming to your offices and homes:

Register for full access to 3 weeks of programming of the biggest science and innovation policy forum of 2020 under the overarching theme: New Decade, New Realities: Hindsight, Insight, Foresight.

2500+ Participants

300+ Speakers from five continents

65+ Panel sessions, 15 pre conference sessions and symposiums

50+ On demand videos and interviews with the most prominent figures of science and innovation policy 

20+ Partner-hosted functions

15+ Networking sessions

15 Open mic sessions to discuss specific topics

The virtual conference features an exclusive array of offerings:

3D Lounge and Exhibit area

Advance access to the Science Policy Magazine, featuring insightful reflections from the frontier of science and policy innovation

Many more

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to engage in the most important discussions of science and innovation policy with insights from around the globe, just from your office, home desk, or your mobile phone.

Benefit from significantly reduced registration fees for an online conference with an option for discount for multiple ticket purchases

Register now to benefit from the Early Bird rate!

The preliminary programme can be found here. This year there will be some discussion of a Canadian synthetic biology roadmap, presentations on various Indigenous concerns (mostly health), a climate challenge presentation focusing on Mexico and social vulnerability and another on parallels between climate challenges and COVID-19. There are many presentations focused on COVID-19 and.or health.

There doesn’t seem to be much focus on cyber security and, given that we just lost two ice caps (see Brandon Spektor’s August 1, 2020 article [Two Canadian ice caps have completely vanished from the Arctic, NASA imagery shows] on the Live Science website), it’s surprising that there are no presentations concerning the Arctic.

International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) 2020

According to my latest information, the early bird rate for ISEA 2020 (Oct. 13 -18) ends on August 13, 2020. (My June 22, 2020 posting describes their plans for the online event.)

You can find registration information here.

Margaux Davoine has written up a teaser for the 2020 edition of ISEA in the form of an August 6, 2020 interview with Yan Breuleux. I’ve excerpted one bit,

Finally, thinking about this year’s theme [Why Sentience?], there might be something a bit ironic about exploring the notion of sentience (historically reserved for biological life, and quite a small subsection of it) through digital media and electronic arts. There’s been much work done in the past 25 years to loosen the boundaries between such distinctions: how do you imagine ISEA2020 helping in that?

The similarities shared between humans, animals, and machines are fundamental in cybernetic sciences. According to the founder of cybernetics Norbert Wiener, the main tenets of the information paradigm – the notion of feedback – can be applied to humans, animals as well as the material world. Famously, the AA predictor (as analysed by Peter Galison in 1994) can be read as a first attempt at human-machine fusion (otherwise known as a cyborg).

The infamous Turing test also tends to blur the lines between humans and machines, between language and informational systems. Second-order cybernetics are often associated with biologists Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana. The very notion of autopoiesis (a system capable of maintaining a certain level of stability in an unstable environment) relates back to the concept of homeostasis formulated by Willam Ross [William Ross Ashby] in 1952. Moreover, the concept of “ecosystems” emanates directly from the field of second-order cybernetics, providing researchers with a clearer picture of the interdependencies between living and non-living organisms. In light of these theories, the absence of boundaries between animals, humans, and machines constitutes the foundation of the technosciences paradigm. New media, technological arts, virtual arts, etc., partake in the dialogue between humans and machines, and thus contribute to the prolongation of this paradigm. Frank Popper nearly called his book “Techno Art” instead of “Virtual Art”, in reference to technosciences (his editor suggested the name change). For artists in the technological arts community, Jakob von Uexkull’s notion of “human-animal milieu” is an essential reference. Also present in Simondon’s reflections on human environments (both natural and artificial), the notion of “milieu” is quite important in the discourses about art and the environment. Concordia University’s artistic community chose the concept of “milieu” as the rallying point of its research laboratories.

ISEA2020’s theme resonates particularly well with the recent eruption of processing and artificial intelligence technologies. For me, Sentience is a purely human and animal idea: machines can only simulate our ways of thinking and feeling. Partly in an effort to explore the illusion of sentience in computers, Louis-Philippe Rondeau, Benoît Melançon and I have established the Mimesis laboratory at NAD University. Processing and AI technologies are especially useful in the creation of “digital doubles”, “Vactors”, real-time avatar generation, Deep Fakes and new forms of personalised interactions.

I adhere to the epistemological position that the living world is immeasurable. Through their ability to simulate, machines can merely reduce complex logics to a point of understandability. The utopian notion of empathetic computers is an idea mostly explored by popular science-fiction movies. Nonetheless, research into computer sentience allows us to devise possible applications, explore notions of embodiment and agency, and thereby develop new forms of interaction. Beyond my own point of view, the idea that machines can somehow feel emotions gives artists and researchers the opportunity to experiment with certain findings from the fields of the cognitive sciences, computer sciences and interactive design. For example, in 2002 I was particularly marked by an immersive installation at Universal Exhibition in Neuchatel, Switzerland titled Ada: Intelligence Space. The installation comprised an artificial environment controlled by a computer, which interacted with the audience on the basis of artificial emotion. The system encouraged visitors to participate by intelligently analysing their movements and sounds. Another example, Louis-Philippe Demers’ Blind Robot (2012),  demonstrates how artists can be both critical of, and amazed by, these new forms of knowledge. Additionally, the 2016 BIAN (Biennale internationale d’art numérique), organized by ELEKTRA (Alain Thibault) explored the various ways these concepts were appropriated in installation and interactive art. The way I see it, current works of digital art operate as boundary objects. The varied usages and interpretations of a particular work of art allow it to be analyzed from nearly every angle or field of study. Thus, philosophers can ask themselves: how does a computer come to understand what being human really is?

I have yet to attend conferences or exchange with researchers on that subject. Although the sheer number of presentation propositions sent to ISEA2020, I have no doubt that the symposium will be the ideal context to reflect on the concept of Sentience and many issues raised therein.

For the last bit of news.

HotPopRobot, one of six global winners of 2020 NASA SpaceApps COVID-19 challenge

I last wrote about HotPopRobot’s (Artash and Arushi with a little support from their parents) response to the 2020 NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) SpaceApps challenge in my July 1, 2020 post, Toronto COVID-19 Lockdown Musical: a data sonification project from HotPopRobot. (You’ll find a video of the project embedded in the post.)

Here’s more news from HotPopRobot’s August 4, 2020 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

Artash (14 years) and Arushi (10 years). Toronto.

We are excited to become the global winners of the 2020 NASA SpaceApps COVID-19 Challenge from among 2,000 teams from 150 countries. The six Global Winners will be invited to visit a NASA Rocket Launch site to view a spacecraft launch along with the SpaceApps Organizing team once travel is deemed safe. They will also receive an invitation to present their projects to NASA, ESA [European Space Agency], JAXA [Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency], CNES [Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales; France], and CSA [Canadian Space Agency] personnel. https://covid19.spaceappschallenge.org/awards

15,000 participants joined together to submit over 1400 projects for the COVID-19 Global Challenge that was held on 30-31 May 2020. 40 teams made to the Global Finalists. Amongst them, 6 teams became the global winners!

The 2020 SpaceApps was an international collaboration between NASA, Canadian Space Agency, ESA, JAXA, CSA,[sic] and CNES focused on solving global challenges. During a period of 48 hours, participants from around the world were required to create virtual teams and solve any of the 12 challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic posted on the SpaceApps website. More details about the 2020 SpaceApps COVID-19 Challenge:  https://sa-2019.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/Space_Apps_FAQ_COVID_.pdf

We have been participating in NASA Space Challenge for the last seven years since 2014. We were only 8 years and 5 years respectively when we participated in our very first SpaceApps 2014.

We have grown up learning more about space, tacking global challenges, making hardware and software projects, participating in meetings, networking with mentors and teams across the globe, and giving presentations through the annual NASA Space Apps Challenges. This is one challenge we look forward to every year.

It has been a fun and exciting journey meeting so many people and astronauts and visiting several fascinating places on the way! We hope more kids, youths, and families are inspired by our space journey. Space is for all and is yours to discover!

If you have the time, I recommend reading HotPopRobot’s August 4, 2020 posting in its entirety.

Worried your ‘priceless’ art could be ruined? Genomics could be the answer

First, there was the story about art masterpieces turning into soap (my June 22, 2017 posting) and now, it seems that microbes may also constitute a problem. Before getting to the latest research, here’s are some images the researchers are using to illustrate their work,

Caption: Leonardo da Vinci noted that the fore and hind wings of a dragonfly are out of phase — verified centuries later by slow motion photography. Thaler suggests further study to compare individuals and species with high “flicker fusion frequency” ability. Credit: PXFuel

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything but I do love dragonflies. This next image seems more relevant to the research,

Caption: Photo summary of the various artworks sampled for the study “”Characterizing microbial signatures on sculptures and paintings of similar provenance.” Circles indicate swabbed areas on each sample artwork Credit: JCVI

It turns out, the researchers are releasing two pieces of research in the same press release, neither having much to do with the other. They (art conservation rresearch, first and, then, research into vision [hence the dragonfly] and da Vinci’s eyes) are both described in a June 18, 2020 J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI)-Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project press release (also on EurekAlert),

A new study of the microbial settlers on old paintings, sculptures, and other forms of art charts a potential path for preserving, restoring, and confirming the geographic origin of some of humanity’s greatest treasures.

Genetics scientists with the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), collaborating with the Leonardo da Vinci DNA Project and supported by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, say identifying and managing communities of microbes on art may offer museums and collectors a new way to stem the deterioration of priceless possessions, and to unmask counterfeits in the $60 billion a year art market.

Manolito G. Torralba, Claire Kuelbs, Kelvin Jens Moncera, and Karen E. Nelson of the JCVI, La Jolla, California, and Rhonda Roby of the Alameda California County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory, used small, dry polyester swabs to gently collect microbes from centuries-old, Renaissance-style art in a private collector’s home in Florence, Italy. Their findings are published in the journal Microbial Ecology .

The genetic detectives caution that additional time and research are needed to formally convict microbes as a culprit in artwork decay but consider their most interesting find to be “oxidase positive” microbes primarily on painted wood and canvas surfaces.

These species can dine on organic and inorganic compounds often found in paints, in glue, and in the cellulose in paper, canvas, and wood. Using oxygen for energy production, they can produce water or hydrogen peroxide, a chemical used in disinfectants and bleaches.

“Such byproducts are likely to influence the presence of mold and the overall rate of deterioration,” the paper says.

“Though prior studies have attempted to characterize the microbial composition associated with artwork decay, our results summarize the first large scale genomics-based study to understand the microbial communities associated with aging artwork.”

The study builds on an earlier one in which the authors compared hairs collected from people in the Washington D.C., and San Diego, CA. areas, finding that microbial signatures and patterns are geographically distinguishable.

In the art world context, studying microbes clinging to the surface of a work of art may help confirm its geographic origin and authenticity or identify counterfeits.

Lead author Manolito G. Torralba notes that, as art’s value continues to climb, preservation is increasingly important to museums and collectors alike, and typically involves mostly the monitoring and adjusting of lighting, heat, and moisture.

Adding genomics science to these efforts offers advantages of “immense potential.”

The study says microbial populations “were easily discernible between the different types of substrates sampled,” with those on stone and marble art more diverse than wood and canvas. This is “likely due to the porous nature of stone and marble harboring additional organisms and potentially moisture and nutrients, along with the likelihood of biofilm formation.”

As well, microbial diversity on paintings is likely lower because few organisms can metabolize the meagre nutrients offered by oil-based paint.

“Though our sample size is low, the novelty of our study has provided the art and scientific communities with evidence that microbial signatures are capable of differentiating artwork according to their substrate,” the paper says.

“Future studies would benefit from working with samples whose authorship, ownership, and care are well-documented, although documentation about care of works of art (e.g., whether and how they were cleaned) seems rare before the mid-twentieth century.”

“Of particular interest would be the presence and activity of oil-degrading enzymes. Such approaches will lead to fully understanding which organism(s) are responsible for the rapid decay of artwork while potentially using this information to target these organisms to prevent degradation.”

“Focusing on reducing the abundance of such destructive organisms has great potential in preserving and restoring important pieces of human history.”

Biology in Art

The paper was supported by the US-based Richard Lounsbery Foundation as part of its “biology in art” research theme, which has also included seed funding efforts to obtain and sequence the genome of Leonardo da Vinci.

The Leonardo da Vinci DNA Project involves scientists in France (where Leonardo lived during his final years and was buried), Italy (where his father and other relatives were buried, and descendants of his half-brothers still live), Spain (whose National Library holds 700 pages of his notebooks), and the US (where forensic DNA skills flourish).

The Leonardo project has convened molecular biologists, population geneticists, microbiologists, forensic experts, and physicians working together with other natural scientists and with genealogists, historians, artists, and curators to discover and decode previously inaccessible knowledge and to preserve cultural heritage.  

Related news release: Leonardo da Vinci’s DNA: Experts unite to shine modern light on a Renaissance master http://bit.ly/2FG4jJu

Measuring Leonardo da Vinci’s “quick eye” 500 years later.

Could he have played major-league baseball?

Famous art historians and biographers such as Sir Kenneth Clark and Walter Isaacson have written about Leonardo da Vinci’s “quick eye” because of the way he accurately captured fleeting expressions, wings during bird flight, and patterns in swirling water. But until now no one had tried to put a number on this aspect of Leonardo’s extraordinary visual acuity.

David S. Thaler of the University of Basel, and a guest investigator in the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, does, allowing comparison of Leonardo with modern measures. Leonardo fares quite well.

Thaler’s estimate hinges on Leonardo’s observation that the fore and hind wings of a dragonfly are out of phase — not verified until centuries later by slow motion photography (see e.g. https://youtu.be/Lw2dfjYENNE?t=44).

To quote Isaacson’s translation of Leonardo’s notebook: “The dragonfly flies with four wings, and when those in front are raised those behind are lowered.”

Thaler challenged himself and friends to try seeing if that’s true, but they all saw only blurs.

High-speed camera studies by others show the fore and hind wingbeats of dragonflies vary by 20 to 10 milliseconds — one fiftieth to one hundredth of a second — beyond average human perception.

Thaler notes that “flicker fusion frequency” (FFF) — akin to a motion picture’s frames per second — is used to quantify and measure “temporal acuity” in human vision.

When frames per second exceed the number of frames the viewer can perceive individually, the brain constructs the illusion of continuous movement. The average person’s FFF is between 20 to 40 frames per second; current motion pictures present 48 or 72 frames per second.

To accurately see the angle between dragonfly wings would require temporal acuity in the range of 50 to 100 frames per second.

Thaler believes genetics will account for variations in FFF among different species, which range from a low of 12 in some nocturnal insects to over 300 in Fire Beetles. We simply do not know what accounts for human variation. Training and genetics may both play important roles.

“Perhaps the clearest contemporary case for a fast flicker fusion frequency in humans is in American baseball, because it is said that elite batters can see the seams on a pitched baseball,” even when rotating 30 to 50 times per second with two or four seams facing the batter. A batter would need Leonardo-esque FFF to spot the seams on most inbound baseballs.  

Thaler suggests further study to compare the genome of individuals and species with unusually high FFF, including, if possible, Leonardo’s DNA.  

Flicker fusion for focus, attention, and affection   

In a companion paper, Thaler describes how Leonardo used psychophysics that would only be understood centuries later — and about which a lot remains to be learned today — to communicate deep beauty and emotion. 

Leonardo was master of a technique known as sfumato (the word derived from the Italian sfumare, “to tone down” or “to evaporate like smoke”), which describes a subtle blur of edges and blending of colors without sharp focus or distinct lines.

Leonardo expert Martin Kemp has noted that Leonardo’s sfumato sometimes involves a distance dependence which is akin to the focal plane of a camera. Yet, at other times, features at the same distance have selective sfumato so simple plane of focus is not the whole answer.

Thaler suggests that Leonardo achieved selective soft focus in portraits by painting in overcast or evening light, where the eyes’ pupils enlarge to let in more light but have a narrow plane of sharp focus. 

To quote Leonardo’s notebook, under the heading “Selecting the light which gives most grace to faces”: “In the evening and when the weather is dull, what softness and delicacy you may perceive in the faces of men and women.”  In dim light pupils enlarge to let in more light but their depth of field decreases.  

By measuring the size of the portrait’s pupils, Thaler inferred Leonardo’s depth of focus. He says Leonardo likely sensed this effect, perhaps unconsciously in the realm of his artistic sensibility. The pupil / aperture effect on depth of focus wasn’t explained until the mid-1800s, centuries after Leonardo’s birth in Vinci, Italy in 1452.

What about selective focus at equal distance? In this case Leonardo may have taken advantage of the fovea, the small area on the back of the eye where detail is sharpest.

Most of us move our eyes around and because of our slower flicker fusion frequency we construct a single 3D image of the world by jamming together many partially in-focus images. Leonardo realized and “froze” separate snapshots with which we construct ordinary perception.

Says Thaler: “We study Leonardo not only to learn about him but to learn about ourselves and further human potential.”

Thaler’s papers (at https://bit.ly/2WZ2cwo and https://bit.ly/2ZBj7Hi) evolved from talks at meetings of the Leonardo da Vinci DNA Project in Italy (2018), Spain and France (2019).

They form part of a collection of papers presented at a recent colloquium in Amboise, France, now being readied for publication in a book: Actes du Colloque International d’Amboise: Leonardo de Vinci, Anatomiste. Pionnier de l’Anatomie comparée, de la Biomécanique, de la Bionique et de la Physiognomonie. Edited by Henry de Lumley, President, Institute of Human Paleontology, Paris, and originally planned for release in late spring, 2020, publication was delayed by the global virus pandemic but should be available at CNRS Editions in the second half of the summer.

Other papers in the collection cover a range of topics, including how Leonardo used his knowledge of anatomy, gained by performing autopsies on dozens of cadavers, to achieve Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile.

Leonardo also used it to exact revenge on academics and scientists who ridiculed him for lacking a classical education, sketching them with absurdly deformed faces to resemble birds, dogs, or goats. 

De Lumley earlier co-authored a 72-page monograph for the Leonardo DNA Project: “Leonardo da Vinci: Pioneer of comparative anatomy, biomechanics and physiognomy.”.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper featuring microbes and art masterpiece,

Characterizing Microbial Signatures on Sculptures and Paintings of Similar Provenance by Manolito G. Torralba, Claire Kuelbs, Kelvin Jens Moncera, Rhonda Roby & Karen E. Nelson. Microbial Ecology (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-020-01504-x Published: 21 May 2020

This paper is open access.

Good for your bones and good for art conservation: calcium

The statues on Easter Island, the Great Wall of China, Egyptian pyramids, MesoAmerican pyramids, castles in Europe and other structures made of stone are deteriorating and now comes another approach to halting the destruction. (I have covered other approaches to the problem in two previous postings, a December 5, 2017 posting, Europe’s cathedrals get a ‘lift’ with nanoparticles, and an October 21, 2014 posting, Heart of stone.)

An August 7, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily announces the latest in conserving stone monuments and structures,

When it comes to cultural heritage sites, there are few things historians wouldn’t do to preserve them for future generations. In particular, stone buildings and sculptures made of plaster and marble are increasingly at risk of damage from air pollution, acid rain and other factors. Researchers now report a new, calcium-based conservation treatment inspired by nature that overcomes many drawbacks of currently used methods.

An August 7, 2019 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release, which originated the news item, provides a bit more technical detail,

Historically, conservation scientists have turned to alkoxysilanes, silicon-based molecules used to consolidate stone and other artworks, in their preservation efforts. However, alkoxysilane treatments do not bond properly with non-silicate surfaces, are prone to cracking and are limited in their ability to repel water. Adding other compounds to this treatment have helped overcome these effects, but only to a point. Instead Encarnación Ruiz Agudo and colleagues looked to nature for inspiration, and found that calcium could be the answer. As a major element of strong, natural structures like bone and kidney stones, the researchers theorized that nanoparticles made from calcium could bolster alkoxysilanes and provide the desired protective effects to conserve historical artifacts.

The researchers made calcium carbonate and calcium oxalate nanoparticles and included polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) as a stabilizer. PDMS also likely helps the nanoparticles bond to surfaces. The team added the nanoparticles to traditional alkoxysilane treatments, then applied them to samples of three different building materials: white marble, calcarenite limestone and gypsum plaster, and put the samples through a battery of tests. Overall, the results showed enhanced hydrophobicity, less cracking and improved surface adhesion compared to alkoxysilane treatments alone, with calcium oxalate providing a marked improvement in acid resistance. A minimal color effect was observed, but the researchers say this change was within acceptable values for conservation efforts.

The authors acknowledge funding from the European Regional Development Fund, the Regional Government of Andalusia, the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Finance and the University of Granada.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bioinspired Alkoxysilane Conservation Treatments for Building Materials Based on Amorphous Calcium Carbonate and Oxalate Nanoparticles by A. Burgos-Cara, C. Rodríguez-Navarro, M. Ortega-Huertas, E. Ruiz-Agudo. ACS Appl. Nano Mater.2019XXXXXXXXXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsanm.9b00905 Publication Date:July 18, 2019 Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Rijksmuseum’s ‘live’ restoration of Rembrandt’s masterpiece: The Nightwatch: is it or isn’t it like watching paint dry?

Somewhere in my travels, I saw ‘like watching paint dry’ as a description for the experience of watching researchers examining Rembrandt’s Night Watch. Granted it’s probably not that exciting but there has to be something to be said for being present while experts undertake an extraordinary art restoration effort. The Night Watch is not only a masterpiece—it’s huge.

This posting was written closer to the time the ‘live’ restoration first began. I have an update at the end of this posting.

A July 8, 2019 news item on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) news online sketches in some details,

The masterpiece, created in 1642, has been placed inside a specially designed glass chamber so that it can still be viewed while being restored.

Enthusiasts can follow the latest on the restoration work online.

The celebrated painting was last restored more than 40 years ago after it was slashed with a knife.

The Night Watch is considered Rembrandt’s most ambitious work. It was commissioned by the mayor and leader of the civic guard of Amsterdam, Frans Banninck Cocq, who wanted a group portrait of his militia company.

The painting is nearly 4m tall and 4.5m wide (12.5 x 15 ft) and weighs 337kg (743lb) [emphasis mine]. As well as being famous for its size, the painting is acclaimed for its use of dramatic lighting and movement.

But experts at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum are concerned that aspects of the masterpiece are changing, pointing as an example to the blanching of the figure of a small dog. The museum said the multi-million euro research and restoration project under way would help staff gain a better understanding of the painting’s condition.

An October 16, 2018 Rijksmuseum press release announced the restoration work months prior to the start (Note: Some of the information is repetitive;),

Before the restoration begins, The Night Watch will be the centrepiece of the Rijksmuseum’s display of their entire collection of more than 400 works by Rembrandt in an exhibition to mark the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death opening on 15 February 2019.

Commissioned in 1642 by the mayor and leader of the civic guard of Amsterdam, Frans Banninck Cocq, to create a group portrait of his shooting company, The Night Watch is recognised as one of the most important works of art in the world today and hangs in the specially designed “Gallery of Honour” at the Rijksmuseum. It is more than 40 years since The Night Watch underwent its last major restoration, following an attack on the painting in 1975.

The Night Watch will be encased in a state-of-the-art clear glass chamber designed by the French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte. This will ensure that the painting can remain on display for museum visitors. A digital platform will allow viewers from all over the world to follow the entire process online [emphasis mine] continuing the Rijksmuseum innovation in the digital field.

Taco Dibbits, General Director Rijksmuseum: The Night Watch is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It belongs to us all, and that is why we have decided to conduct the restoration within the museum itself – and everyone, wherever they are, will be able to follow the process online.

The Rijksmuseum continually monitors the condition of The Night Watch, and it has been discovered that changes are occurring, such as the blanching [emphasis mine] on the dog figure at the lower right of the painting. To gain a better understanding of its condition as a whole, the decision has been taken to conduct a thorough examination. This detailed study is necessary to determine the best treatment plan, and will involve imaging techniques, high-resolution photography and highly advanced computer analysis. Using these and other methods, we will be able to form a very detailed picture of the painting – not only of the painted surface, but of each and every layer, from varnish to canvas.

A great deal of experience has been gained in the Rijksmuseum relating to the restoration of Rembrandt’s paintings. Last year saw the completion of the restoration of Rembrandt’s spectacular portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. The research team working on The Night Watch is made up of researchers, conservators and restorers from the Rijksmuseum, which will conduct this research in close collaboration with museums and universities in the Netherlands and abroad.

The Night Watch

The group portrait of the officers and other members of the militia company of District II, under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch, now known as The Night Watch, is Rembrandt’s most ambitious painting. This 1642 commission by members of Amsterdam’s civic guard is Rembrandt’s first and only painting of a militia group. It is celebrated particularly for its bold and energetic composition, with the musketeers being depicted ‘in motion’, rather than in static portrait poses. The Night Watch belongs to the city of Amsterdam, and it been the highlight of the Rijksmuseum collection since 1808. The architect of the Rijksmuseum building Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921) even created a dedicated gallery of honour for The Night Watch, and it is now admired there by more than 2.2 million people annually.

2019, The Year of Rembrandt

The Year of Rembrandt, 2019, marks the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death with two major exhibitions honouring the great master painter. All the Rembrandts of the Rijksmuseum (15 February to 10 June 2019) will bring together the Rijksmuseum’s entire collection of Rembrandt’s paintings, drawings and prints, for the first time in history. The second exhibition, Rembrandt-Velázquez (11 October 2019 to 19 January 2020), will put the master in international context by placing 17th-century Spanish and Dutch masterpieces in dialogue with each another.

First, the restoration work is not being livestreamed; the digital platform Operation Night Watch is a collection of resources, which are being updated constantly, For example, the first scan was placed online in Operation Night Watch on July 16, 2019.

Second, ‘blanching’ reminded me of a June 22, 2017 posting where I featured research into why masterpieces were turning into soap, (Note: The second paragraph should be indented to indicated that it’s an excerpt fro the news release. Unfortunately, the folks at WordPress appear to have removed the tools that would allow me to do that and more),

This piece of research has made a winding trek through the online science world. First it was featured in an April 20, 2017 American Chemical Society news release on EurekAlert

A good art dealer can really clean up in today’s market, but not when some weird chemistry wreaks havoc on masterpieces. Art conservators started to notice microscopic pockmarks forming on the surfaces of treasured oil paintings that cause the images to look hazy. It turns out the marks are eruptions of paint caused, weirdly, by soap that forms via chemical reactions. Since you have no time to watch paint dry, we explain how paintings from Rembrandts to O’Keefes are threatened by their own compositions — and we don’t mean the imagery.

….

Getting back to the Night Watch, there’s a July 8, 2019 Rijksmuseum press release which provides some technical details,

On 8 July 2019 the Rijksmuseum starts Operation Night Watch. It will be the biggest and most wide-ranging research and conservation project in the history of Rembrandt’s masterpiece. The goal of Operation Night Watch is the long-term preservation of the painting. The entire operation will take place in a specially designed glass chamber so the visiting public can watch.

Never before has such a wide-ranging and thorough investigation been made of the condition of The Night Watch. The latest and most advanced research techniques will be used, ranging from digital imaging and scientific and technical research, to computer science and artificial intelligence. The research will lead to a better understanding of the painting’s original appearance and current state, and provide insight into the many changes that The Night Watch has undergone over the course of the last four centuries. The outcome of the research will be a treatment plan that will form the basis for the restoration of the painting.

Operation Night Watch can also be followed online from 8 July 2019 at rijksmuseum.nl/nightwatch

From art historical research to artificial intelligence

Operation Night Watch will look at questions regarding the original commission, Rembrandt’s materials and painting technique, the impact of previous treatments and later interventions, as well as the ageing, degradation and future of the painting. This will involve the newest and most advanced research methods and technologies, including art historical and archival research, scientific and technical research, computer science and artificial intelligence.

During the research phase The Night Watch will be unframed and placed on a specially designed easel. Two platform lifts will make it possible to study the entire canvas, which measures 379.5 cm in height and 454.5 cm in width.

Advanced imaging techniques

Researchers will make use of high resolution photography, as well as a variety of advanced imaging techniques, such as macro X-ray fluorescence scanning (macro-XRF) and hyperspectral imaging, also called infrared reflectance imaging spectroscopy (RIS), to accurately determine the condition of the painting.

56 macro-XRF scans

The Night Watch will be scanned millimetre by millimetre using a macro X-ray fluorescence scanner (macro-XRF scanner). This instrument uses X-rays to analyse the different chemical elements in the paint, such as calcium, iron, potassium and cobalt. From the resulting distribution maps of the various chemical elements in the paint it is possible to determine which pigments were used. The macro-XRF scans can also reveal underlying changes in the composition, offering insights into Rembrandt’s painting process. To scan the entire surface of the The Night Watch it will be necesary to make 56 scans, each one of which will take 24 hours.

12,500 high-resolution photographs

A total of some 12,500 photographs will be taken at extremely high resolution, from 180 to 5 micrometres, or a thousandth of a millimetre. Never before has such a large painting been photographed at such high resolution. In this way it will be possible to see details such as pigment particles that normally would be invisible to the naked eye. The cameras and lamps will be attached to a dynamic imaging frame designed specifically for this purpose.

Glass chamber

Operation Night Watch is for everyone to follow and will take place in full view of the visiting public in an ultra-transparent glass chamber designed by the French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte.

Research team

The Rijksmuseum has extensive experience and expertise in the investigation and treatment of paintings by Rembrandt. The conservation treatment of Rembrandt’s portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit was completed in 2018. The research team working on The Night Watch is made up of more than 20 Rijksmuseum scientists, conservators, curators and photographers. For this research, the Rijksmuseum is also collaborating with museums and universities in the Netherlands and abroad, including the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Amsterdam University Medical Centre (AUMC), University of Antwerp (UA) and National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

The Night Watch

Rembrandt’s Night Watch is one of the world’s most famous works of art. The painting is the property of the City of Amsterdam, and it is the heart of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, where it is admired by more than two million visitors each year. The Night Watch is the Netherland’s foremost national artistic showpiece, and a must-see for tourists.

Rembrandt’s group portrait of officers and other civic guardsmen of District 2 in Amsterdam under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch has been known since the 18th century as simply The Night Watch. It is the artist’s most ambitious painting. One of Amsterdam’s 20 civic guard companies commissioned the painting for its headquarters, the Kloveniersdoelen, and Rembrandt completed it in 1642. It is Rembrandt’s only civic guard piece, and it is famed for the lively and daring composition that portrays the troop in active poses rather than the traditional static ones.

Donors and partners

AkzoNobel is main partner of Operation Night Watch.

Operation Night Watch is made possible by The Bennink Foundation, PACCAR Foundation, Piet van der Slikke & Sandra Swelheim, American Express Foundation, Familie De Rooij, Het AutoBinck Fonds, Segula Technologies, Dina & Kjell Johnsen, Familie D. Ermia, Familie M. van Poecke, Henry M. Holterman Fonds, Irma Theodora Fonds, Luca Fonds, Piek-den Hartog Fonds, Stichting Zabawas, Cevat Fonds, Johanna Kast-Michel Fonds, Marjorie & Jeffrey A. Rosen, Stichting Thurkowfonds and the Night Watch Fund.

With the support of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the City of Amsterdam, Founder Philips and main sponsors ING, BankGiro Loterij and KPN every year more than 2 million people visit the Rijksmuseum and The Night Watch.

Details:
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
The Night Watch, 1642
oil on canvas
Rijksmuseum, on loan from the Municipality of Amsterdam

Update as of November 22, 2019

I just clicked on the Operation Night Watch link and found a collection of resources including videos of live updates from October 2019. As noted earlier, they’re not livestreaming the restoration. The October 29, 2019 ‘live update’ features a host speaking in Dutch (with English subtitles in the version I was viewing) and interviews with the scientists conducting the research necessary before they start actually restoring the painting.

Graphene-gilded artifacts (or artefacts)

Caption: L: An artist rendering of graphene gilding on Tutankhamun’s middle coffin (original photograph copyright: Griffith Institute, University of Oxford). R: Microscope image of a graphene crystal is shown on the palladium leaf. Although graphene is only a single atom thick, it can be observed in the scanning electron microscope. Here, a small crystal of graphene is shown to observe its edges. The team produces leaves where the graphene fully cover the metal surface. Credit: Original photograph copyright: Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

As icons go, Tutankhamun’s middle coffin ranks highly and it’s a great image to use as an example of what might be accomplished with graphene gilding. From a Sept. 10, 2018 news item on Nanowerk,

Gilding is the process of coating intricate artifacts with precious metals. Ancient Egyptians and Chinese coated their sculptures with thin metal films using gilding—and these golden sculptures have resisted corrosion, wear, and environmental degradation for thousands of years. The middle and outer coffins of Tutankhamun, for instance, are gold leaf gilded, as are many other ancient treasures.

In a new study, Illinois’ Sameh Tawfick, from the Department of Mechanical Science & Engineering (MechSE) and the Beckman Institute, inspired by this ancient process, has added a single layer of carbon atoms, known as graphene, on top of metal leaves—doubling the protective quality of gilding against wear and tear.

A Sept. 10, 2018 University of Illinois news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, offers more details,

Metal leaves, or foils, offer many advantages as a scalable coating material, including their commercial availability in large rolls and their comparatively low price. By bonding a single layer of graphene to the leaves, Tawfick and his team demonstrated unexpected benefits, including enhanced mechanical resistance. Their work presents exciting opportunities for protective coating applications on large structures like buildings or ship hulls, metal surfaces of consumer electronics, and small precious artifacts or jewelry.

“Adding one more layer of graphene atoms onto the palladium made it twice as resistant to indents than the bare leaves alone,” said Tawfick. “It’s also very attractive from a cost perspective. The amount of graphene needed to cover the gilded structures of the Carbide & Carbon Building in Chicago, for example, would be the size of the head of a pin.”

Additionally, the team developed a new technology to grow high-quality graphene directly on the surface of 150 nanometer-thin palladium leaves—in just 30 seconds. Using a process called chemical vapor deposition, in which the metal leaf is processed in a 1,100°C furnace, the bare palladium leaf acts as a catalyst, allowing the gases to react quickly.

“Chemical vapor deposition of graphene requires a very high temperature, which could melt the leaves or cause them to bead up by a process called solid state dewetting,” said Kaihao Zhang, PhD candidate in MechSE and lead author of the study. “The process we developed deposits the graphene quickly enough to avoid high-temperature degradation, it’s scalable, and it produces graphene of very high quality.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Gilding with Graphene: Rapid Chemical Vapor Deposition Synthesis of Graphene on Thin Metal Leaves by Kaihao Zhang, Charalampos Androulidakis, Mingze Chen, Sameh Tawfick. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.201804068 First published: 06 September 2018

This paper is behind  a paywall.

Seeing ghosts: recovering images from dageurreotypes with help from the Canadian Light Source (synchrotron)

A daguerreotype plate with the photograph hidden by the tarnish (left) yet visible when imaged with synchrotron X-rays (right). Courtesy of Madalena Kozachuk.

Amazing, yes? Especially when you consider how devastating the inadvertent destruction of important daguerreotypes in an exhibition of US Civil War photography must have been to the curators and owners of the images. The ‘destruction’ occurred in 2005 and inspired research into the cause of the destruction, which was first covered here in a January 10, 2013 posting and followed up in a November 17, 2015 posting about an exhibit showcasing the results of the research.

A daguerreotype plate with the photograph hidden by the tarnish (left) yet visible when imaged with synchrotron X-rays (right). Courtesy of Madalena Kozachuk.

This latest research into daguerreotypes was performed at the Canadian Light Source (CLS; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada). Unlike my previous postings, this research was an attempt to retrieve the original image rather than research the reasons for its ‘destruction’. From a June 22, 2018 CLS news release (also on EurekAlert) by Lana Haight and Jeffrey Renaud (Note: Links have been removed),

Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after scientists learned how to use light to see through degradation that has occurred over time.

Research published today [June 22, 2018] in Scientific Reports includes two images from the National Gallery of Canada’s photography research unit that show photographs that were taken, perhaps as early as 1850, but were no longer visible because of tarnish and other damage. The retrieved images, one of a woman and the other of a man, were beyond recognition.

“It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry at Western University [formerly University of Western Ontario] and lead author of the scientific paper.

“The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time. But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the table cloth.”

The identities of the woman and the man are not known. It’s possible that the plates were produced in the United States, but they could be from Europe.

For the past three years, Kozachuk and an interdisciplinary team of scientists have been exploring how to use synchrotron technology to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes.

Invented in 1839, daguerreotype images were created using a highly polished silver-coated copper plate that was sensitive to light when exposed to an iodine vapour. Subjects had to pose without moving for two to three minutes for the image to imprint on the plate, which was then developed as a photograph using a mercury vapour that was heated.

Kozachuk conducts much of her research at the Canadian Light Source and previously published results in scientific journals in 2017 and earlier this year. In those articles, the team members identified the chemical composition of the tarnish and how it changed from one point to another on a daguerreotype.

“We compared degradation that looked like corrosion versus a cloudiness from the residue from products used during the rinsing of the photographs versus degradation from the cover glass. When you look at these degraded photographs, you don’t see one type of degradation,” said Ian Coulthard, a senior scientist at the CLS and one of Kozachuk’s supervisors. He is also a co- author on the research papers.

This preliminary research at the CLS led to today’s [June 22, 2018] paper and the images Kozachuk collected at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source where she was able to analyze the daguerreotypes in their entirety.

Kozachuk used rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence imaging to analyze the plates, which are about 7.5 cm wide, and identified where mercury was distributed on the plates. With an X-ray beam as small as 10 by 10 microns (a human scalp hair averages 75 microns across) and at an energy most sensitive to mercury absorption, the scan of each daguerreotype took about eight hours.

“Mercury is the major element that contributes to the imagery captured in these photographs. Even though the surface is tarnished, those image particles remain intact. By looking at the mercury, we can retrieve the image in great detail,” said Tsun-Kong (T.K.) Sham, Canada Research Chair in Materials and Synchrotron Radiation at Western University. He also is a co-author of the research and one of Kozachuk’s supervisors.

This is one of the many examples of successful research collaboration between Western University and CLS scientists.

Kozachuk’s research, which is ongoing, will contribute to improving how daguerreotype images are recovered when cleaning is possible and will provide a way to see what’s below the tarnish when cleaning is not possible. She will be back at the CLS this fall to continue her work.

The prospect of improved conservation methods intrigues John P. McElhone, recently retired as the chief of the Conservation and Technical Research branch at the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada. He provided the daguerreotypes from the institute’s research collection.

“There are a lot of interesting questions that at this stage of our knowledge can only be answered by a sophisticated scientific approach,” said McElhone, another of the co-authors of today’s paper.

“A conservator’s first step is to have a full and complete understanding of what the material isand how it is assembled on a microscopic and even nanoscale level. We want to find out how the chemicals are arranged on the surface and that understanding gives us access to theories about how degradation happens and how that degradation can possibly or possibly not be reversed.”

As the first commercialized photographic process, the daguerreotype is thought to be the first “true” visual representation of history. Unlike painters who could use “poetic licence” in their work, the daguerreotype reflected precisely what was photographed.

Thousands and perhaps millions of daguerreotypes were created over 20 years in the 19th century before the process was replaced. The Canadian Photography Institute collection numbers more than 2,700, not including the daguerreotypes in the institute’s research collection.

By improving the process of restoring these centuries-old images, the scientists are contributing to the historical record. What was thought to be lost that showed the life and times of people from the 19th century can now be found. [emphases mine]

That last sentence seems to be borrowing from a line in the song, Amazing Grace, “I once was lost, but now am found,” from the song’s Wikipedia entry.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Recovery of Degraded-Beyond-Recognition 19th Century Daguerreotypes with Rapid High Dynamic Range Elemental X-ray Fluorescence Imaging of Mercury L Emission by Madalena S. Kozachuk, Tsun-Kong Sham, Ronald R. Martin, Andrew J. Nelson, Ian Coulthard, & John P. McElhone. Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 9565 (2018) DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-27714 Published online June 22, 2018

This paper is open access. By the way, the research into the ‘destruction’ of the daguerreotypes in the 2005 exhibition? It’s cited in this paper.

Shipwrecks being brought back to life with ‘smart nanotech’

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is holding its 256th meeting from August 19 – 22, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts, US. This August 21, 2018 news item on Nanowerk announces a ‘shipwreck’ presentation at the meeting,

Thousands of shipwrecks litter the seafloor all over the world, preserved in sediments and cold water. But when one of these ships is brought up from the depths, the wood quickly starts deteriorating. Today, scientists report a new way to use “smart” nanocomposites to conserve a 16th-century British warship, the Mary Rose, and its artifacts. The new approach could help preserve other salvaged ships by eliminating harmful acids without damaging the wooden structures themselves.

An August 21, 2018 ACS press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the research and scientists’ after hours (?) activities,

“This project began over a glass of wine with Eleanor Schofield, Ph.D., who is head of conservation at the Mary Rose Trust,” recalls Serena Corr, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator. “She was working on techniques to preserve the wood hull and assorted artifacts and needed a way to direct the treatment into the wood. We had been working with functional magnetic nanomaterials for applications in imaging, and we thought we might be able to apply this technology to the Mary Rose.”

The Mary Rose sank in 1545 off the south coast of England and remained under the seabed until she was salvaged in 1982, along with over 19,000 artifacts and pieces of timber. About 40 percent of the original structure survived. The ship and its artifacts give unique insights into Tudor seafaring and what it was like to live during that period. A state-of-the-art museum in Portsmouth, England, displays the ship’s hull and artifacts. A video about the ship and its artifacts can be viewed here.

While buried in the seabed, sulfur-reducing marine bacteria migrated into the wood of the Mary Rose and produced hydrogen sulfide. This gas reacted with iron ions from corroded fixtures like cannons to form iron sulfides. Although stable in low-oxygen environments, sulfur rapidly oxidizes in regular air in the presence of iron to form destructive acids. Corr’s goal was to avoid acid production by removing the free iron ions.

Once raised from the seabed, the ship was sprayed with cold water, which stopped it from drying out and prevented further microbial activity. The conservation team then sprayed the hull with different types of polyethylene glycol (PEG), a common polymer with a wide range of applications, to replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood and strengthen its outer layer.

Corr and her postdoctoral fellow Esther Rani Aluri, Ph.D., and Ph.D. candidate Enrique Sanchez at the University of Glasgow are devising a new family of tiny magnetic nanoparticles to aid in this process, in collaboration with Schofield and Rachel O’Reilly, Ph.D., at the University of Warwick. In their initial step, the team, led by Schofield, used synchrotron techniques to probe the nature of the sulfur species before turning the PEG sprays off, and then periodically as the ship dried. This was the first real-time experiment to closely examine  the evolution of oxidized sulfur and iron species. This accomplishment has informed efforts to design new targeted treatments for the removal of these harmful species from the Mary Rose wood.

The next step will be to use a nanocomposite based on core magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles that include agents on their surfaces that can remove the ions. The nanoparticles can be directly applied to the porous wood structure and guided to particular areas of the wood using external magnetic fields, a technique previously demonstrated for drug delivery. The nanocomposite will be encompassed in a heat-responsive polymer that protects the nanoparticles and provides a way to safely deliver them to and from the wood surface. A major advantage of this approach is that it allows for the complete removal of free iron and sulfate ions from the wood, and these nanocomposites can be tuned by tweaking their surfaces.

With this understanding, Corr notes, “Conservators will have, for the first time, a state-of-the-art quantitative and restorative method for the safe and rapid treatment of wooden artifacts. We plan to then transfer this technology to other materials recovered from the Mary Rose, such as textiles and leather.”

The researchers acknowledge funding from the Mary Rose Trust and the Leverhulme Trust.

There is a video about the Mary Rose produced by Agence France Presse (AFP) and published on Youtube in May 2013,

Here’s the text from AFP Mary Rose entry on Youtube,

The relics from the Mary Rose, the flagship of England’s navy when it sank in 1545 as a heartbroken king Henry VIII watched from the shore, have finally been reunited with the famous wreck in a new museum offering a view of life in Tudor times. Duration: 02:35

One more thing: Canadian shipwrecks

We don’t have a ‘Henry VIII’ story or ‘smart nano and shipwrecks’ story but we do have a federal agency devoted to underwater archaeology, Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology webpage,

Underwater archaeology deals with archaeological sites found below the surface of oceans, rivers, and lakes and on the foreshore. In addition to shipwrecks, underwater archaeologists study submerged aboriginal sites such as fish weirs and middens; remains of historic structures such as wharves, canal locks, and marine railways; sunken aircraft; and other submerged cultural heritage resources.

Underwater archaeology shares the same methodology and principles as archaeology carried out on land sites. All archaeology involves the careful study of artefacts, structures and features to reconstruct and explain the lives of people in the past. However, because it is carried out in a more challenging environment, underwater archaeological fieldwork is more complex than land archaeology.

Specialized techniques and equipment are required to work productively underwater. Staying warm during long dives is a constant concern, so underwater archaeologists often use masks that cover their entire faces, dry suits worn over layers of warm clothing, or in cases where the water is extremely cold, such as the excavation in Red Bay (Labrador), wet suits supplied with a flow of hot water. Underwater communication systems are used to talk to people on the surface or to other divers. Removing sediments covering underwater sites requires the controlled use of specially designed equipment such as suction airlifts and small dredges. Recording information underwater presents its own challenges. Special underwater paper is used for notes and drawings, while photo and video cameras are placed in waterproof housings.

Underwater archaeological fieldwork includes remote-sensing surveys using geophysical techniques, diving surveys to locate and map sites, site monitoring, and excavation. The success of an underwater archaeological project rests on accurate documentation of all aspects of the process. Meticulous mapping and recording are particularly essential when excavation is required, as artefacts and other physical evidence are permanently removed from their original contexts. Archaeologists aim to be able to reconstruct the entire site from the records they generate during fieldwork.

Underwater archeology with Marc-André Bernier

Current position:00:00:00

Total time:00:02:27

There’s also a podcast interview with Marc-André Bernier where he discusses an important Canadian shipwreck, from the Library and Archives Canada, Underwater Canada: Investigating Shipwrecks webpage (podcast length 27:25), here’s the transcript for those who prefer reading,

Shipwrecks have stirred up interest in Canada’s maritime heritage for many decades. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, one of Canada’s worst maritime disasters.

In this episode, Marc-André Bernier, Chief of Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service, joins us to discuss shipwrecks, their importance in Canadian history, and how LAC plays an important role in researching, discovering and investigating them.

Podcast Transcript

Underwater Canada: Investigating Shipwrecks

Jessica Ouvrard: Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I’m your host, Jessica Ouvrard. Join us as we showcase the treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.

Canada has a rich maritime history filled with many tragedies, from small boats [lost] in the Great Lakes, to the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River, to Sir John Franklin’s doomed expeditions in the Arctic. The shipwrecks capture our imaginations and evoke images of tragedy, heroism, mystery and discovery. 2014 also marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland.

Marc-André Bernier, Chief of Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service, is joining us to discuss shipwrecks and their significance in Canada’s history, and LAC’s important role in the research, discovery and investigation of these shipwrecks.

Hello, Marc-André Bernier. Thank you for coming today.

Marc-André Bernier: My pleasure. Hello to you.

JO: For those who don’t know much about underwater archaeology, can you explain what it is and the risks and challenges that it presents?

MAB: I’ll start with the challenges rather than the risks, because there are obviously risks, but we try to minimize them. Diving is inherently risky. But I’ll start with the challenges because they are, to a certain extent, what characterize underwater archaeology.

We face a series of challenges that are more complicated, that make our work much more complicated than terrestrial archaeology. We work on water and underwater, and our working conditions are dictated by what happens outside, by nature. We can’t work every day on the water, especially if our work involves the sea or the ocean, for example. And when we work underwater, we have to deal with constraints in terms of time and sometimes visibility. That means that we have to be extremely well organized. Preparation is crucial. Logistics are crucial.

In terms of preparation, we need to properly prepare our research using archives and so on, but we also have to be prepared in terms of knowing what’s going on in the field. We need to know the environmental conditions and diving conditions, even when we can’t dive. Increasingly, the work involves heading into deeper areas that can only be reached by robots, by remotely operated equipment. So we have to be able to adapt.

We have to be very precise and very organized because sometimes we have only a few minutes to access a site that will tell us many historical secrets. So we have to come very well prepared.

And when we dive, we’re working in a foreign environment. We have to be good divers, yes, but we also have to have access to tools that will give us access to information. We have to take into account currents, darkness, and so on. The work is really very challenging. But with the rapid development of new technologies in recent years, we have access to more and more tools. We do basically the same work as archaeologists on land. However, the work is done in a completely different environment.

JO: A bit hostile in fact.

MAB: A bit hostile, but with sites, objects and information that are not accessible elsewhere. So there’s an opportunity to learn about history in a different way, and in some cases on a much larger scale.

JO: With all the maritime traffic in Canada, there must have been many accidents. Can you talk about them and give us an idea of the number?

MAB: People don’t realize that we’re a maritime country. We are a country that has evolved and developed around water. This was true even before the Europeans arrived. The First Nations often travelled by water. That travel increased or developed differently, if you will, when the Europeans arrived.

The St. Lawrence River, for example, and the Atlantic provinces were the point of entry and the route. We refer to different waterways, such as the Ottawa and Richelieu rivers. They constituted the route. So, there was heavy traffic, which meant many accidents. We’re talking about probably tens of thousands of shipwrecks if we include the Great Lakes and all the coasts of Canada. Since Canada has the longest coastline in the world, there is potential for shipwrecks. Only a small number of those shipwrecks have been found, but some are very significant and extremely impressive as well.

JO: Are there also many military ships, or is it more…?

MAB: That’s another thing that people don’t realize. There have been many military confrontations in Canadian waters, dating back to the New France era, or when Phips (Sir William Phips) arrived at Quebec City in 1690 and laid siege to the city. He arrived by ship and lost ships when he returned. During the Conquest, there were naval confrontations in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia; in Chaleur Bay; and even at Quebec City. Then, in the War of 1812, the Great Lakes were an extremely important maritime theatre of war in terms of naval battles. There are a number of examples in the Richelieu River.

Then we have the Second World War, with ships and German submarines. We all know the stories of the submarines that came inside the Gulf. So there are many military shipwrecks, from the New France era onward.

JO: What were the most significant shipwrecks in Canada? Have all the shipwrecks been found or…?

MAB: No. There are still shipwrecks that remain to be found. These days at Parks Canada, we’ve been looking for two of the shipwrecks that are considered among the most significant in the country: the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, Sir John Franklin’s ships lost in the Arctic. Franklin left England in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage, and he was never heard from again. Those are examples of significant shipwrecks that haven’t been found.

However, significance is always relative. A shipwreck may be very significant, especially if there is loss of life. It’s a tragic event that is deeply affecting. There are many shipwrecks that may not be seen as having national historic significance. However, at the local level, they are tragic stories that have very deep significance and that have profoundly affected an area.

That being said, there are ships that bear witness to memorable moments in the history of our country. Among the national historic sites of shipwrecks are, if we go back, the oldest shipwrecks: the Basque wrecks at Red Bay, Labrador, where whales were hunted in the 16th century. It’s even a UNESCO world heritage site. Then, from the New France era, there’s the Corossol from 1693 and the Phips wrecks from 1690. These are very significant shipwrecks.

Also of great significance are the Louisbourg shipwrecks, the battle site, the Battle of the Restigouche historic site, as well as shipwrecks such as the Hamilton and Scourge from the War of 1812. For all practical purposes, those shipwrecks are intact at the bottom of Lake Ontario. And the Franklin shipwrecks-even if they still haven’t been found-have been declared of national historic significance.

So there’s a wide range of shipwrecks that are significant, but there are thousands and thousands of shipwrecks that have significance. A shipwreck may also be of recreational significance. Some shipwrecks may be a little less historically significant, but for divers, they are exceptional sites for appreciating history and for having direct contact with history. That significance matters.

JO: Yes, they have a bit of a magical side.

MAB: They have a very magical side. When we dive shipwrecks, we travel through history. They give us direct access to our past.

JO: Yes. I imagine that finding a shipwreck is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack?

MAB: It can sometimes be a needle in a haystack, but often it’s by chance. Divers will sometimes stumble upon remains, and it leads to the discovery of a shipwreck. But usually, when we’re looking for a shipwreck, we have to start at the beginning and go to the source. We have to begin with the archives. We have to start by doing research, trying to find every small clue because searching in water over a large area is very difficult and complicated. We face logistical and environmental obstacles in our working conditions. It’s also expensive. We need to use ships and small boats.

There are different ways to find shipwrecks. At one extreme is a method that is technologically very simple. We dive and systematically search an area, if it’s not too deep. At the other extreme, we use the most sophisticated equipment. Today we have what we call robotic research vehicles. It is as sophisticated as launching the device, which is a bit like a self-guided torpedo. We launch it and recover it a few hours later. It carries out a sonar sweep of the bottom along a pre-programmed path. Between the two, we have a range of methods.

Basically, we have to properly define the boundaries of the area. It’s detective work. We have to try to recreate the events and define our search area, then use the proper equipment. The side-scan sonar gives us an image, and magnetometers detect metal. We have to decide which of the tools we’ll use. If we don’t do the research beforehand, we’ll lose a great deal of time.

JO: Have you used the LAC collections in your research, and what types of documents have you found?

MAB: Yes, as often as possible. We try to use the off-site archives, but it’s important to have access to the sources. Our research always starts with the archives. As for the types of documents, I mentioned the Basque documents that were collected through Library and Archives Canada. I’ve personally used colonial archives a lot. For the Corossol sinking in 1693, I remember looking at documents and correspondence that talked about the French recovery from the shipwreck the year after 1693, and the entire Phips epic.

At LAC, there’s a copy of the paintings of Creswell [Samuel Gurney Cresswell], who was an illustrator, painter, and also a lieutenant, in charge of doing illustrations during the HMS Investigator’s journey through the Arctic. So there’s a wide variety of documents, and sometimes we are surprised by the personal correspondence, which gives us details that official documents can’t provide.

JO: How do these documents help you in your research?

MAB: The archival records are always surprising. They help us in every respect. You have to see archaeology as detective work. Every detail is significant. It can be the change in topographical names on old maps that refer to events. There are many “Wreck Points” or “Pointe à la barque,” “Anse à la barque,” and so on. They refer to events. People named places after events. So we can always be surprised by bits of information that seem trivial at first.

It ranges from information on the sites and on the events that led to a shipwreck, to what happened after the sinking and what happened overall. What we want is not only to understand an event, but also to understand the event in the larger context of history, such as the history of navigation. Sometimes, the records provide that broader information.

It ranges from the research information to the analysis afterward: what we have, what we found, what it means and what it says about our history. That’s where the records offer limitless possibilities. We always have surprises. That’s why we enjoy coming to the archives, because we never know what we’ll discover.

JO: Yes, it’s always great to open a box.

MAB: It’s like Christmas. It’s like Christmas when we start delving into archival records, and it’s a sort of prelude to what happens in archaeology. When we reach a site, we’re always excited by what the site has to offer. But we have to be prepared to understand it. That’s why preparation using archives is extremely important to our work.

JO: In terms of LAC sources, do you often look at historical maps? Do you look at the different ones, because we have quite a large collection…

MAB: Quite exceptional, yes.

JO: … from the beginning until now?

MAB: Yes. They provide a lot of information, and we use them, like all sources, as much as possible. We look for different things on the maps. Obviously, we look for places that may show shipwreck locations. These maps may also show the navigation corridors or charts. The old charts show anchorages and routes. They help us recreate navigation habits, which helps us understand the navigation and maritime mindset of the era and gives us clues as to where the ships went and where they were lost.

These maps give us that type of information. They also give us information on the topography and the names of places that have changed over the years. Take the example of the Corossol in the Sept-Îles bay. One of the islands in that bay is called Corossol. For years, people looked for the French ship, the Corossol, near that island. However, Manowin Island was also called Corossol at that time and its name changed. So in the old maps, we traced the origin, and the ship lies much closer to that island. Those are some of the clues.

We also have magnificent maps. One in particular comes to mind. It was created in the 19th century on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine by an insurance company agent who made a wreck map of all the shipwrecks that he knew of. To us, that’s like candy. It’s one of the opportunities that maps provide. Maps are magnificent even if we don’t find clues. Just to admire them-they’re absolutely magnificent.

JO: From a historical point of view, why is it important to study shipwrecks?

MAB: Shipwrecks are in fact a microcosm. They represent a small world. During the time of the voyage, there was a world of its own inside the ship. That in itself is interesting. How did people live on board? What were they carrying? These are clues. The advantage of a shipwreck is that it’s like a Polaroid, a fixed image of a specific point in time. When we study a city such as Quebec City that has been continuously occupied, sometimes it’s difficult to see the separation between eras, or even between events. A shipwreck shows a specific time and specific place.

JO: And it’s frozen in time.

MAB: And it’s frozen in time. So here’s an image, in 1740, what did we have? Of course, we find objects made in other eras that were still in use in that time period. But it really gives us a fixed image, a capsule. We often have an image of a time capsule. It’s very useful, because it’s very rare to have these mini Pompeiis, and we have them underwater. It’s absolutely fascinating and interesting. It’s one of the contributions of underwater archaeology.

The other thing is that we don’t necessarily find the same type of material underwater as on land. The preservation conditions are completely different. On land, we find a great deal of metal. Iron stays fairly well preserved. But there’s not much organic material, unless the environment is extremely humid or extremely dry. Underwater, organic materials are very well preserved, especially if the sedimentation is fairly quick. I remember finding cartouches from 1690 that still had paper around them. So the preservation conditions are absolutely exceptional.

That’s why it’s important. The shipwrecks give us unique information that complements what we find on land, but they also offer something that can’t be found elsewhere.

JO: I imagine that there are preservation problems once it’s…

MAB: And that’s the other challenge.

JO: Yes, certainly.

MAB: If an object is brought up, we have to be ready to take action because it starts to degrade the moment we move it…

JO: It comes into contact with oxygen.

MAB: … Yes, but even when we move it, we expose it to a new corrosion, a new degradation. If we bring it to the surface right away, the process accelerates very quickly. We have to keep the object damp. We always have to be ready to take action. For example, if the water heats up too fast, micro-organisms may develop that accelerate the degradation. We then have to be ready to start preservation treatments, which can take years depending on the object. It’s an enormous responsibility and we have to be ready to handle it, if not, we destroy…

JO: … the heritage.

MAB: … what we are trying to save, and that’s to everyone’s detriment.

JO: Why do you think that people are so fascinated by archaeology, and more specifically by shipwrecks?

MAB: That’s also a paradox. We say that people aren’t interested in history. I am firmly convinced that people enjoy history and are interested in it. It must be well narrated, but people are interested in history. There’s already an interest in our past and in our links with the past. If people feel directly affected by the past, they’ll be fascinated by it. If we add on top of that the element of discovery, and archaeology is discovery, and all the myths surrounding artefact hunters…

JO: … treasure hunters.

MAB: … treasures, and so on. It’s an image that people have. Yes, we hunt treasure, but historical treasure. That image applies even more strongly to shipwrecks. There’s always that myth of the Spanish galleon filled with gold. Everyone thinks that all shipwrecks contain a treasure. That being said, there’s a fascination with discovery and with the past, and add on top of that the notion of the bottom of the sea: it’s the final frontier, where we can be surprised by what we discover. Since these discoveries are often remarkably well preserved, people are absolutely fascinated.

We grow up with stories of pirates, shipwrecks and lost ships. These are powerful images. A shipwreck is an image that captures the imagination. But a shipwreck, when we dive a shipwreck, we have direct contact with the past. People are fascinated by that.

JO: Are shipwreck sites accessible to divers?

MAB: Shipwreck sites are very accessible to divers. For us, it’s a basic principle. We want people to be able to visit these sites. Very rarely do we limit access to a site. We do, for example, in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. The site is accessible, but with a guide. The site must be visited with a guide because the wrecks are unique and very fragile.

However, the basic principle is that, as I was saying, we should try to allow people to savour and absorb the spirit of the site. The best way is to visit the site. So there are sites that are accessible, and we try to make them accessible. We not only make them accessible, but we also promote them. We’re developing tools to provide information to people.

It’s also important to raise awareness. We have the opportunity and privilege to visit the sites. We have to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the same opportunity. So we have to protect and respect [the sites]. In that spirit, the sites have to be accessible because these experiences are absolutely incredible. With technology, we can now make them accessible not only to divers but also virtually, which is interesting and stimulating. Nowadays there are opportunities to make all these wonders available to as many people as possible, even if they don’t have the chance to dive.

JO: How long has Parks Canada been involved in underwater archaeology?

MAB: 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first dives at Fort Lennox in 1964 by Sean Gilmore and Walter Zacharchuk. That’s where it began. We’re going back there in August of this year, to the birthplace of underwater archaeology at Parks Canada.

We’re one of the oldest teams in the world, if we can say that. The first time an archaeologist dived a site was in 1960, so we were there basically at the beginning. Parks Canada joined the adventure very early on and it continues to be a part of it to this day. I believe that we’ve studied 225 sites across Canada, in the three oceans, the Great Lakes, rivers, truly across the entire country. We have a wealth of experience, and we’ll celebrate that this year by returning to Fort Lennox where it all began.

JO: Congratulations!

MAB: Thank you very much.

JO: 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. What can you tell us about this maritime accident?

MAB: The story of the Empress begins on May 28, 1914. The Empress of Ireland left Quebec City for England with first, second and third class passengers on board. The Empress left Quebec in the late afternoon, with more than 1,400 passengers and crew on board. The ship headed down the St. Lawrence to Pointe au Père, a pilot station, because pilots were needed to navigate the St. Lawrence, given the reefs and hazards.

The pilot left the Empress at the Pointe au Père pilot station, and the ship resumed her journey. At the same time, the Storstad, a cargo ship, was heading in the opposite direction. In the fog, the two ships collided. The Storstad rammed the Empress of Ireland, creating a hole that immediately filled with water.

At that moment, it was after 1:30 a.m., so almost 2:00 a.m. It was night and foggy. The ship sank within 14 minutes, with a loss of 1,012 lives. Over 400 people survived, but over 1,000 people [died]. Many survivors were pulled from the water either by the ship that collided with the Empress or by other ships that were immediately dispatched.

JO: 14 minutes…

MAB: … In 14 minutes, the ship sank. The water rushed in and the ship sank extremely fast, leaving very little opportunity for people, especially those deeper inside the ship, to save themselves.

JO: So a disaster.

MAB: The greatest maritime tragedy in the history of the country.

JO: What’s your most unforgettable experience at an underwater archaeology site?

MAB :I’ve been doing this job for 24 years now, and I can tell you that I have had extraordinary experiences! There are two that stand out.

One was a Second World War plane in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan that sank after takeoff. Five of the nine crew members drowned in the plane. In 2009, the plane was found intact at a depth of 40 metres. We knew that five of the crew members were still inside. What was absolutely fascinating, apart from the sense of contact and the very touching story, was that we had the opportunity, chance and privilege to have people who were on the beach when the event occurred, who saw the accident and who saw the soldiers board right beforehand. They told us how it happened and they are a direct link. They are part of the history and they experienced that history.

That was an absolutely incredible human experience. We worked with the American forces to recover the remains of the soldiers. Seeing people who had witnessed the event and who could participate 70 years later was a very powerful moment. Diving the wreck of that plane was truly a journey through time.

The other experience was with the HMS Investigator in the Arctic. That’s the ship that was credited with discovering the Northwest Passage. Actually, the crew found it, since the ship remained trapped in the ice and the crew continued on foot and were saved by another ship. The ship is practically intact up to the upper deck in ten metres of water. When you go down there, the area is completely isolated. The crew spent two winters there. On land we can see the remains of the equipment that they left on the ground. Three graves are also visible. So we can absorb the fact that they were in this environment, which was completely hostile, for two years, with the hope of being rescued.

And the ship: we then dive this amazing exploration machine that’s still upright, with its iron-clad prow to break the ice. It’s an icebreaker from the 1850s. We dive on the deck, with the debris left by the ice, the pieces of the ship completely sheared off by the ice. But underneath that is a complete ship, and on the inside, everything that the people left on board.

I often say that it’s like a time travel machine. We are transported and we can absorb the spirit of the site. That’s what I believe is important, and what we at Parks [Canada] try to impart, the spirit of the site. There was a historic moment, but it occurred at a site. That site must be seen and experienced for maximum appreciation. That’s part of the essence of the historic event and the site. On that site, we truly felt it.

JO: Thank you very much for coming to speak with us today. We greatly appreciate your knowledge of underwater Canada. Thank you.

MAB: Thank you very much.

JO: To learn more about shipwrecks, visit our website Shipwreck Investigations at lac-bac.gc.ca/sos/shipwrecks or read our articles on shipwrecks on thediscoverblog.com [I found other subjects but not shipwrecks in my admittedly brief search of the blog].

Thank you for joining us. I’m your host, Jessica Ouvrard, and you’ve been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada-where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thanks to our guest today, Marc-André Bernier.

A couple of comments. (1) It seems that neither Mr. Bernier nor his team have ever dived on the West Coast or west of Ottawa for that matter. (2) Given Bernier’s comments about oxygen and the degradation of artefacts once exposed to the air, I imagine there’s a fair of amount of excitement and interest in Corr’s work on ‘smart nanotech’ for shipwrecks.

Art masterpieces are turning into soap

This piece of research has made a winding trek through the online science world. First it was featured in an April 20, 2017 American Chemical Society news release on EurekAlert,

A good art dealer can really clean up in today’s market, but not when some weird chemistry wreaks havoc on masterpieces. Art conservators started to notice microscopic pockmarks forming on the surfaces of treasured oil paintings that cause the images to look hazy. It turns out the marks are eruptions of paint caused, weirdly, by soap that forms via chemical reactions. Since you have no time to watch paint dry, we explain how paintings from Rembrandts to O’Keefes are threatened by their own compositions — and we don’t mean the imagery.

Here’s the video,

Interestingly, this seems to be based on a May 23, 2016 article by Sarah Everts for Chemical and Engineering News (an American Society publication) Note: Links have been removed,

When conservator Petria Noble first peered at Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” under a microscope back in 1996, she was surprised to find pockmarks across the nearly 400-year-old painting’s surface.

Each tiny crater was just a few hundred micrometers in diameter, no wider than the period at the end of this sentence. The painting’s surface was entirely riddled with these curious structures, giving it “a dull, rather hazy, gritty surface,” Noble says.

A structure of lead nonanoate.

The crystal structures of metal soaps vary: Shown here is lead nonanoate, based on a structure solved by Cecil Dybowski at the University of Delaware and colleagues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dashed lines are nearest oxygen neighbors.

This concerned Noble, who was tasked with cleaning the masterpiece with her then-colleague Jørgen Wadum at the Mauritshuis museum, the painting’s home in The Hague.

When Noble called physicist Jaap Boon, then at the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter in Amsterdam, to help figure out what was going on, the researchers unsuspectingly embarked on an investigation that would transform the art world’s understanding of aging paint.

More recently this ‘metal soaps in paintings’ story has made its way into a May 16, 2017 news item on phys.org,

An oil painting is not a permanent and unchangeable object, but undergoes a very slow change in the outer and inner structure. Metal soap formation is of great importance. Joen Hermans has managed to recreate the molecular structure of old oil paints: a big step towards better preservation of works of art. He graduated cum laude on Tuesday 9 May [2017] at the University of Amsterdam with NWO funding from the Science4Arts program.

A May 15, 2017 Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) press release, which originated the phys.org news item, provides more information about Hermans’ work (albeit some of this is repetitive),

Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft, c. 1660 - 1661 (Mauritshuis, The Hague)Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft, c. 1660 – 1661 (Mauritshuis, The Hague)

Paint can fade, varnish can discolour and paintings can collect dust and dirt. Joen Hermans has examined the chemical processes behind ageing processes in paints. ‘While restorers do their best to repair any damages that have occurred, the fact remains that at present we do not know enough about the molecular structure of ageing oil paint and the chemical processes they undergo’, says Hermans. ‘This makes it difficult to predict with confidence how paints will react to restoration treatments or to changes in a painting’s environment.’

‘Sand grains’ In the red tiles of 'View of Delft' by Johannes Vermeer shows 'lead soap spheres' (Annelies van Loon, UvA/Mauritshuis)‘Sand grains’ In the red tiles of ‘View of Delft’ by Johannes Vermeer shows ‘lead soap spheres’ (Annelies van Loon, UvA/Mauritshuis)

Visible to the naked eye

Hermans explains that in its simplest form, oil paint is a mixture of pigment and drying oil, which forms the binding element. Colour pigments are often metal salts. ‘When the pigment and the drying oil are combined, an incredibly complicated chemical process begins’, says Hermans, ‘which continues for centuries’. The fatty acids in the oil form a polymer network when exposed to oxygen in the air. Meanwhile, metal ions react with the oil on the surface of the grains of pigment.

‘A common problem when conserving oil paintings is the formation of what are known as metal soaps’, Hermans continues. These are compounds of metal ions and fatty acids. The formation of metal soaps is linked to various ways in which paint deteriorates, as when it becomes increasingly brittle, transparent or forms a crust on the paint surface. Hermans: ‘You can see clumps of metal soap with the naked eye on some paintings, like Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp or Vermeer’s View of Delft’. Around 70 per cent of all oil paintings show signs of metal soap formation.’

Conserving valuable paintings

Hermans has studied in detail how metal soaps form. He began by defining the structure of metal soaps. One of the things he discovered was that the process that causes metal ions to move in the painting is crucial to the speed at which the painting ages. Hermans also managed to recreate the molecular structure of old oil paints, making it possible to simulate and study the behaviour of old paints without actually having to remove samples from Rembrandt’s Night Watch. Hermans hopes this knowledge will contribute towards a solid foundation for the conservation of valuable works of art.

I imagine this will make anyone who owns an oil painting or appreciates paintings in general pause for thought and the inclination to utter a short prayer for conservators to find a solution.

Sniffing for art conservation

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has produced a video titled, “How that ‘old book smell’ could save priceless artifacts” according to their Sept. 6, 2016 news release on EurekAlert,

Odor-detecting devices like Breathalyzers have been used for years to determine blood-alcohol levels in drunk drivers. Now, researchers are using a similar method to sniff out the rate of decay in historic art and artifacts. By tracking the chemicals in “old book smell” and similar odors, conservators can react quickly to preserve priceless art and artifacts at the first signs of decay. In this Speaking of Chemistry, Sarah Everts explains how cultural-heritage science uses the chemistry of odors to save books, vintage jewelry and even early Legos. …

Here’s the video,

Heritage Smells, the UK project mentioned in the video, is now completed but it was hosted by the University of Strathclyde and more project information can be found here.

When based on plastic materials, contemporary art can degrade quickly

There’s an intriguing April 1, 2016 article by Josh Fischman for Scientific American about a problem with artworks from the 20th century and later—plastic-based materials (Note: A link has been removed),

Conservators at museums and art galleries have a big worry. They believe there is a good chance the art they showcase now will not be fit to be seen in one hundred years, according to researchers in a project  called Nanorestart. Why? After 1940, artists began using plastic-based material that was a far cry from the oil-based paints used by classical painters. Plastic is also far more fragile, it turns out. Its chemical bonds readily break. And they cannot be restored using techniques historically relied upon by conservators.

So art conservation scientists have turned to nanotechnology for help.

Sadly, there isn’t any detail in Fischman’s article (*ETA June 17, 2016 article [for Fast Company] by Charlie Sorrel, which features some good pictures, a succinct summary of Fischman’s article and a literary reference [Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard]I*) about how nanotechnology is playing or might play a role in this conservation effort. Further investigation into the two projects (NanoRestART and POPART) mentioned by Fischman didn’t provide much more detail about NanoRestART’s science aspect but POPART does provide some details.

NanoRestART

It’s probably too soon (this project isn’t even a year-old) to be getting much in the way of the nanoscience details but NanoRestART has big plans according to its website homepage,

The conservation of this diverse cultural heritage requires advanced solutions at the cutting edge of modern chemistry and material science in an entirely new scientific framework that will be developed within NANORESTART project.

The NANORESTART project will focus on the synthesis of novel poly-functional nanomaterials and on the development of highly innovative restoration techniques to address the conservation of a wide variety of materials mainly used by modern and contemporary artists.

In NANORESTART, enterprises and academic centers of excellence in the field of synthesis and characterization of nano- and advanced materials have joined forces with complementary conservation institutions and freelance restorers. This multidisciplinary approach will cover the development of different materials in response to real conservation needs, the testing of such materials, the assessment of their environmental impact, and their industrial scalability.

NanoRestART’s (NANOmaterials for the REStoration of works of ART) project page spells out their goals in the order in which they are being approached,

The ground-breaking nature of our research can be more easily outlined by focussing on specific issues. The main conservation challenges that will be addressed in the project are:

 

Conservation challenge 1Cleaning of contemporary painted and plastic surfaces (CC1)

Conservation challenge 2Stabilization of canvases and painted layers in contemporary art (CC2)

Conservation challenge 3Removal of unwanted modern materials (CC3)

Conservation challenge 4Enhanced protection of artworks in museums and outdoors (CC4)

The European Commission provides more information about the project on its CORDIS website’s NanoRestART webpage including the start and end dates for the project and the consortium members,

From 2015-06-01 to 2018-12-01, ongoing project

CHALMERS TEKNISKA HOEGSKOLA AB
Sweden
MIRABILE ANTONIO
France
NATIONALMUSEET
Denmark
CONSIGLIO NAZIONALE DELLE RICERCHE
Italy
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND, CORK
Ireland
MBN NANOMATERIALIA SPA
Italy
KEMIJSKI INSTITUT
Slovenia
CHEVALIER AURELIA
France
UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DO RIO GRANDE DO SUL
Brazil
UNIVERSITA CA’ FOSCARI VENEZIA
Italy
AKZO NOBEL PULP AND PERFORMANCE CHEMICALS AB
Sweden
COMMISSARIAT A L ENERGIE ATOMIQUE ET AUX ENERGIES ALTERNATIVES
France
ARKEMA FRANCE SA
France
UNIVERSIDAD DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Spain
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
United Kingdom
ZFB ZENTRUM FUR BUCHERHALTUNG GMBH
Germany
UNIVERSITAT DE BARCELONA
Spain
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE TATE GALLERY
United Kingdom
ASSOCIAZIONE ITALIANA PER LA RICERCA INDUSTRIALE – AIRI
Italy
THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
United States
MINISTERIO DE EDUCACION, CULTURA Y DEPORTE
Spain
STICHTING HET RIJKSMUSEUM
Netherlands
UNIVERSITEIT VAN AMSTERDAM
Netherlands
UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DO RIO DE JANEIRO
Brazil
ACCADEMIA DI BELLE ARTI DI BRERA
Italy

It was a bit surprising to see Brazil and the US as participants but The Art Institute of Chicago has done nanotechnology-enabled conservation in the past as per my March 24, 2014 posting about a Renoir painting. I’m not familiar with the Brazilian organization.

POPART

POPART (Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in museum collections) mentioned by Fischman was a European Commission project which ran from 2008 – 2012. Reports can be found on the CORDIS Popart webpage. The final report has some interesting bits (Note: I have added subheads in the [] square brackets),

To achieve a valid comparison of the various invasive and non-invasive techniques proposed for the identification and characterisation of plastics, a sample collection (SamCo) of plastics artefacts of about 100 standard and reference plastic objects was gathered. SamCo was made up of two kinds of reference materials: standards and objects. Each standard represents the reference material of a ‘pure’ plastic; while each object represents the reference of the same plastic as in the standards, but compounded with pigments, dyestuffs, fillers, anti oxidants, plasticizers etc.  Three partners ICN [Instituut Collectie Nederland], V&A [Victoria and Albert Museum] and Natmus [National Museet] collected different natural and synthetic plastics from the ICN reference collections of plastic objects, from flea markets, antique shops and from private collections and from their own collection to contribute to SamCo, the sample collection for identification by POPART partners. …

As a successive step, the collections of the following museums were surveyed:

-Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), London, U.K.
-Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
-Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporaine (MAMAC) Nice, France
-Musée d’Art moderne, St. Etienne, France
-Musée Galliera, Paris, France

At the V&A approximately 200 objects were surveyed. Good or fair conservation conditions were found for about 85% of the objects, whereas the remaining 15% was in poor or even in unacceptable (3%) conditions. In particular, crazing and delamination of polyurethane faux leather and surface stickiness and darkening of plasticized PVC were observed. The situation at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam was particularly favourable because a previous survey had been done in 1995 so that it was possible to make a comparison with the Popart survey in 2010. A total number of 40 objects, which comprised plastics early dating from the 1930’s until the newer plastics from the 1980’s, were considered and their actual conservation state compared with the 1995 records. Of the objects surveyed in 2010, it can be concluded that 21 remained in the same condition. 13 objects containing PA, PUR, PVC, PP or natural rubber changed due to chemical and physical degradation while works of art containing either PMMA or PS changed due to mechanical damages and incorrect artist’s technique (inappropriate adhesive) into a lesser condition. 6 works of art (containing either PA or PMMA or both) changed into a better condition due to restoration or replacements.  More than 230 objects have been examined in the 3 museums in France. A particular effort was devoted to the identification of the constituting plastics materials. Surveys have been undertaken without any sophisticated equipment, in order to work in museums everyday conditions. Plastics hidden by other materials or by paint layers were not or hardly accessible, it is why the final count of some plastics may be under estimated in the final results. Another outcome is that plastic identification has been made at a general level only, by trying to identify the polymer family each plastic belongs to. Lastly, evidence of chemical degradation processes that do not cause visible or perceptible damage have not been detected and could not be taken in account in the final results.

… The most damaged artefacts resulted constituted by cellulose acetate, cellulose nitrate and PVC.

[Polly (the doll)]

One of the main issues that is of interest for conservators and curators is to assess which kinds of plastics are most vulnerable to deterioration and to what extent they can deteriorate under the environmental conditions normally encountered in museums. Although one might expect that real time deterioration could be ascertained by a careful investigation of museum objects on display or in storage, real objects or artworks may not sampled due to ethical considerations. Therefore, reference objects were prepared by Natmus in the form of a doll (Polly) for simultaneous exposures in different environmental conditions. The doll comprised of 11 different plastics representative of types typically found in modern museum collections. The 16 identical dolls realized were exposed in different places, not only in normal exhibit conditions, but also in some selected extreme conditions to ascertain possible acceleration of the deterioration process. In most cases the environmental parameters were also measured. The dolls were periodically evaluated by visual inspection and in selected cases by instrumental analyses. 

In conclusion the experimental campaign carried out with Polly dolls can be viewed as a pilot study aimed at tackling the practical issues related to the monitoring of real three dimensional plastic artworks and the surrounding environment.

The overall exposure period (one year and half) was sufficient to observe initial changes in the more susceptible polymers, such as polyurethane ethers and esters, and polyamide, with detectable chromatic changes and surface effects. Conversely the other polymers were shown to be stable in the same conditions over this time period.

[Polly as an awareness raising tool]

Last but not least, the educational and communication benefits of an object like Polly facilitated the dissemination of the Popart Project to the public, and increased the awareness of issues associated with plastics in museum collections.

[Cleaning issues]

Mechanical cleaning has long been perceived as the least damaging technique to remove soiling from plastics. The results obtained from POPART suggest that the risks of introducing scratches or residues by mechanical cleaning are measurable. Some plastics were clearly more sensitive to mechanical damage than others. From the model plastics evaluated, HIPS was the most sensitive followed by HDPE, PVC, PMMA and CA. Scratches could not be measured on XPS due to its inhomogeneous surfaces. Plasticised PVC scratched easily, but appeared to repair itself because plasticiser migrated to surfaces and filled scratches.

Photo micrographs revealed that although all 22 cleaning materials evaluated in POPART scratched test plastics, some scratches were sufficiently shallow to be invisible to the naked eye. Duzzit and Scotch Brite sponges as well as all paper based products caused more scratching of surfaces than brushes and cloths. Some cleaning materials, notably Akapad yellow and white sponges, compressed air, latex and synthetic rubber sponges and goat hair brushes left residues on surfaces. These residues were only visible on glass-clear, transparent test plastics such as PMMA. HDPE and HIPS surfaces both had matte and roughened appearances after cleaning with dry-ice. XPS was completely destroyed by the treatment. No visible changes were present on PMMA and PVC.

Of the cleaning methods evaluated, only canned air, natural and synthetic feather duster left surfaces unchanged. Natural and synthetic feather duster, microfiber-, spectacle – and cotton cloths, cotton bud, sable hair brush and leather chamois showed good results when applied to clean model plastics.

Most mechanical cleaning materials induced static electricity after cleaning, causing immediate attraction of dust. It was also noticed that generally when adding an aqueous cleaning agent to a cleaning material, the area scratched was reduced. This implied that cleaning agents also functioned as lubricants. A similar effect was exhibited by white spirit and isopropanol.
Based on cleaning vectors, Judith Hofenk de Graaff detergent, distilled water and Dehypon LS45 were the least damaging cleaning agents for all model plastics evaluated. None of the aqueous cleaning agents caused visible changes when used in combination with the least damaging cleaning materials. Sable hair brush, synthetic feather duster and yellow Akapad sponge were unsuitable for applying aqueous cleaning agents. Polyvinyl acetate sponge swelled in contact with solvents and was only suitable for aqueous cleaning processes.

Based on cleaning vectors, white spirit was the least damaging solvent. Acetone and Surfynol 61 were the most damaging for all model plastics and cannot be recommended for cleaning plastics. Surfynol 61 dissolved polyvinyl acetate sponge and left a milky residue on surfaces, which was particularly apparent on clear PMMA surfaces. Surfynol 61 left residues on surfaces on evaporating and acetone evaporated too rapidly to lubricate cleaning materials thereby increasing scratching of surfaces.

Supercritical carbon dioxide induced discolouration and mechanical damage to the model plastics, particularly to XPS, CA and PMMA and should not be used for conservation cleaning of plastics.

Potential Impact:
Cultural heritage is recognised as an economical factor, the cost of decay of cultural heritage and the risk associated to some material in collection may be high. It is generally estimated that plastics, developed at great numbers since the 20th century’s interbellum, will not survive that long. This means that fewer generations will have access to lasting plastic art for study, contemplation and enjoyment. On the other hand will it normally be easier to reveal a contemporary object’s technological secrets because of better documentation and easier access to artists’ working methods, ideas and intentions. A first more or less world encompassing recognition of the problems involved with museum objects made wholly or in part of plastics was through the conference ‘Saving the twentieth century” held in Ottawa, Canada in 1991. This was followed later by ‘Modern Art, who cares’ in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1997, ‘Mortality Immortality? The Legacy of Modern Art’ in Los Angeles, USA in 1998 and, for example much more recent, ‘Plastics –Looking at the future and learning from the Past’ in London, UK in 2007. A growing professional interest in the care of plastics was clearly reflected in the creation of an ICOM-CC working group dedicated to modern materials in 1996, its name change to Modern Materials and Contemporary Art in 2002, and its growing membership from 60 at inception to over 200 at the 16th triennial conference in Lisbon, Portugal in 2011 and tentatively to over 300 as one of the aims put forward in the 2011-2014 programme of that ICOM-CC working group. …

[Intellectual property]

Another element pertaining to conservation of modern art is the copyright of artists that extends at least 50 years beyond their death. Both, damage, value and copyright may influence the way by which damage is measured through scientific analysis, more specifically through the application of invasive or non invasive techniques. Any selection of those will not only have an influence on the extent of observable damage, but also on the detail of information gathered and necessary to explain damage and to suggest conservation measures.

[How much is deteriorating?]

… it is obvious from surveys carried out in several museums in France, the UK and The Netherlands that from 15 to 35 % of what I would then call an average plastic material based collection is in a poor to unacceptable condition. However, some 75 % would require cleaning,

I hope to find out more about how nanotechnology is expected to be implemented in the conservation and preservation of plastic-based art. The NanoRestART project started in June 2015 and hopefully more information will be disseminated in the next year or so.

While it’s not directly related, there was some work with conservation of daguerreotypes (19th century photographic technique) and nanotechnology mentioned in my Nov. 17, 2015 posting which was a followup to my Jan. 10, 2015 posting about the project and the crisis precipitating it.

*ETA June 30, 2016: Here’s clip from a BBC programme, Science in Action broadcast on June 30, 2016 featuring a chat with some of the scientists involved in the NanoRestArt project (Note: This excerpt is from a longer programme and seemingly starts in the middle of a conversation,)