Istituto centrale per il restauro e la conservazione del patrimonio archivistico e librario
Recent publications
Wood species identification and characterization of its weathering processes are crucial steps in the scientific approach of conservation of wooden cultural heritage. Many precious wooden objects of ancient Egypt are largely present in museums, nevertheless relatively little information is available concerning the nature of timber used and on their status of conservation. To address this gap, the wooden species of three relevant archaeological wood objects (statue, box, and coffin) arising from different Egyptian archaeological sites dated from the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC) to New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC) were deeply studied. Five hardwood and softwood species were identified belonging to Tamarix mannifera, T. gennessarensis, Ficus sycomorus, Vachellia nilotica, and Cedrus sp. Such data confirmed the recurrence of Vachellia and Tamarix among the most common timbers found in ancient Egypt. Scanning Electron Microscope, Fourier Transform Spectroscopy, and Synchrotron x‐ray radiation diffraction were conducted to evaluate the archaeological wood deterioration. The formation of microcracks, biological degradation patterns (fungal colonization), or chemical characterization (accumulation of salts on and in‐between wooden cells) were detected. SEM micrographs showed the presence of fungal hyphae and conidial spores on the wooden cells. Significant changes in the chemical wood composition and decrease in the crystallinity index were detected.
Bioerosion is the destruction of hard substrates resulting from biological activity, and plays a relevant role in the ecological interactions and coastal dynamics processes. Several organisms have evolved structures and behaviors allowing them to perforate biotic and abiotic surfaces, transforming hard surfaces into particles, and contributing significantly to sediment production in the coastal and marine environment. Due to the large geographical diffusion of marine borers, bioerosion is relevant in many scientific and applied fields of interest. Most bioerosion studies have hitherto been conducted in tropical areas, where borers are a critical component of coral reef destruction. Comparatively, little information is available for the bioerosion of submerged archeological heritage. This review focuses on the bioerosion of archeological calcareous artifacts in the Mediterranean Sea, summarizing studies concerning the colonization of statues, shipwrecks, cargo, and the remains of submerged cities. The paper includes the first comprehensive listing of the archeological sites in the Mediterranean Sea where bioerosion has been assessed. The diversity of boring organisms affecting marine archeological remains and their boring patterns, the various types of bored materials, and the severity of the damage caused to heritage artifacts are also included. Both microborers (algae, fungi, and cyanobacteria) and macroborers (sponges, bivalves, polychaetes, sipunculids, and echinoids) are considered, and their roles in the structuring of endolithic assemblages are also covered. The experimental techniques currently employed to analyze bioerosion traces, helping to identify particular species and ichnospecies and their ecological dynamics, are also considered. Finally, a discussion of the current strategies proposed for the in situ protection and conservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage is provided.
Gandharan art developed in the Himalayan area in the early centuries CE. It has been investigated mostly from an iconographic point of view, missing, until very recently, a systematic technical investigation of materials and techniques. Recently our team began performing chemical analyses of the traces of the polychromy originally covering statues, reliefs and architectural decorations, to discover the ancient painting techniques and artistic technologies. This paper presents the results of the analytical investigation (optical microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry) of pigments, ground layers and binders of a new group of samples taken from stucco architectural decorations (2nd–3rd/4th centuries CE). The samples were collected directly at an archaeological site in the Swat Valley, ensuring the exact knowledge of their stratigraphic provenance, as well as the absence of any restoration treatment applied prior sampling. The results are discussed in the wider context of Gandharan polychromy investigated so far by our team, as found in sculptures and architectural decorations preserved in museums (in Italy and France) and in archaeological excavations in Pakistan. The aim of this research is to shed light on the materials and techniques of this Buddhist ancient art from this region and on the influences exerted on it from Eastern and Western artistic traditions.
Given its impact on the perception of observers, the reintegration of lacunae in works of pictorial art is one of the most delicate and debated conservation-restoration actions. This text describes the methodology that guided the technical choices regarding the chromatic reintegration of the lacunae and the protective finishing of the mural surfaces in the Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Mercy) Hermitage, in Loulé. Additional reference is made to the way in which those choices/methodology articulated the symbolic and religious values of the hermitage paintings with the ethical and deontological principles of conservation-restoration. Although the type of intervention and its final outcome should always be discussed with the stakeholders, and eventual consultants, technical choices will necessarily be made by the conservator-restorer, who must therefore have training, experience and sensitivity adequate to the critical analysis required by this type of decision making.
Historical traces of organisms on the seafloor, such as shells and tubes, constitute the ecological memory of ancient benthic assemblages and serve as an important resource for understanding the assembly of modern communities. Archeological shipwrecks are particularly interesting submerged substrata for both their archeological and biological implications. For the first time, we studied the species composition and life-history traits of dominant organisms in the benthic assemblage on a bronze Carthaginian naval ram, which sank more than two thousand years ago in the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea. By comparing the species composition of the ram assemblage with those of the surrounding habitats, we inferred possible colonization patterns for the ram and discussed the informative role of the shipwreck as a proxy of marine biodiversity. The ram assemblage was rich in species, including both sessile (bryozoans, serpulid polychaetes, and few bivalves) and motile (gastropods) species. Sexual reproduction with free-spawning fertilization and long-duration larvae characterized most species. The long submersion time of the ram, together with the reproductive strategies, growth forms, and motility of the dominant species were key factors shaping the community of the ram. The ram itself offers an archeological artifact of inestimable value, but our analysis revealed it to be an effective collector of fauna from the surrounding seabed. The ram community hosted species from a range of nearby natural habitats (mostly coralligenous, detritic bottoms, and zoosteracean meadows) and thus served as a proxy for marine biodiversity on the surrounding seabed. We conclude that the presence of many species on the ram that commonly occur in adjacent habitats of great environmental value was informative and highlight the important marine biodiversity in the area of the Aegadian archipelago.
In this work, the technique and the pictorial materials employed by Claude Monet in Pink Water Lilies , presently housed at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome, were investigated. The painting underwent noninvasive investigations such as energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence and visible reflectance spectroscopies. The combined use of these techniques allowed us to identify most of the inorganic pigments such as cobalt blue and violet, zinc oxide, cadmium yellow, vermilion, and mixtures. Particularly, the spectrophotometric curves allow for the detection of the anhydrous and hydrated chromium greens. Two micro-fragments of the painting were also examined with micro-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and the cross-sections obtained were analyzed with the optical microscope and with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDS). Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy analyses allowed us to recognize the animal glue used for priming the canvas, which was covered with a ground layer consisting of calcite and lead white mixed with an oil binder. A lipidic binder was also detected in the color layer. Optical microscopy and SEM-EDS were useful to retrieve information about the stratigraphy, the distribution of pigments, and a more complete palette identification of phosphate, arsenate, and magnesium arsenate cobalt violets, and the red lake was possible.
The paper deals with the archaeometric investigation of wall paintings in the Sant’Angelo in Criptis karst cave in Santeramo in Colle (Southern Italy) dedicated to St. Michel the Archangel. The investigated wall paintings portray the Virgin with Child, the Christ Pantocrator and Descent of the Holy Spirit, both consisting of two overlapped pictorial cycles, and St. Michael the Archangel slaying the dragon, containing a single painting. Archaeometric research focuses on the characterisation of 56 samples of mortars and pictorial layers in terms of raw materials, pigment mixtures and painting techniques and aims to provide a meaningful contribute to the historical and chronological knowledge of the site. The analytical approach involved microstratigraphic observation under reflected-light optical microscope and compositional characterisation through micro-Raman spectroscopy and scanning electron microscope-energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. Results indicated a colour palette involving shades of red, yellow and black, obtained using common pigments such as red and yellow ochres and carbon black frequently mixed to each other, or with lime, to produce secondary hues and most precious pigment, as cinnabar. Mortar analysis provided information on technological aspects and helped to validate chronological hypotheses. The most relevant aspect emerging from results was the custom and the ability of the workers to mix few pigments to obtain several shades and chromatic nuances and the competence in the overlapping of different coloured layers to produce specific chromatic effects. Such considerations suggested the modus operandi of the artists who worked in the Apulia region in the Middle Ages and helped to define technical procedures and material features of the Apulian rupestrian paintings.
Although Gino Severini is recognised as a leading exponent of European avant-garde movements through the first half of the twentieth century, his work as a mural painter is little known. This article reports the technical study of Severini’s wall paintings for the Swiss church of Saint Nicolas de Myre in Semsales (1924–1926), in the framework of a research project coordinated by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland and financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the project investigates the wall paintings made by the artist in five churches in Switzerland and dating between 1924 and 1947, with the aim of clarifying the artist's mural painting techniques. Following research in the parish archives and in those of the Severini family, the project proceeded in the different churches with in situ examination (diffuse and raking visible light, UV radiation, digital microscopy) supported by non-invasive scientific investigation (technical photography and spectroscopic point analyses) and laboratory invasive analyses on micro-samples. Lastly, the data from all the various sources are collected and interrelated. The artist’s first commission, in 1924 at Semsales, became the longest and most complex, given the artist’s relative lack of mural experience, the extent of surfaces, and variety of techniques adopted. The investigation reveals a long process in which Severini mastered a secco procedures using organic binders, on plasters that had already been applied, flanked by works in the tradition of a fresco painting, enriched with a modern palette of colours. Underlying all this work was a long process of planning, in which the artist associated the differing techniques with variations in style, in an extremely personal language between cubism and classicism.
This paper focuses on the presentation of some of the main critical reflections concerning the current debate about conservation and restoration of contemporary murals in the Street and Urban Art field. More and more, the operations thought of for this kind of wall paintings are connected to the concept of preventive conservation or some actions with the aim of reducing the future deterioration linked to the outdoor context. The idea of protecting urban and street murals arises from two principal issues: on one hand, the (not yet) official, but social, recognition of them as works of art and beloved icons in the communities—or better “testimonies which spread the values of civilization” (definition of Cultural Heritage) from the last decades of the XX century to nowadays—and, on the other hand, the necessity of finding a way to preserve their artistic messages in the ephemeral urban context. In fact, developing a correct plan for the conservation and restoration of these works of art located in the outdoor context needs to consider—more than ever—the strict relationship between their materials, their environment, and even their viewer. This fragile axiom is strictly linked to the law of the street, where all the decay processes are, often, unpredictable. At the moment, the ICR’s (The Istituto Centrale per il Restauro) research in this field is focused on a work in progress project to develop some trials and tests with innovative materials for their preservation and a common glossary to outline particular forms of damaging in murals often based on “plastic on a wall”. The final aim could be to define institutional guidelines for the preservation of urban and street contemporary mural paintings in a perspective of a “share for care” conservative program.
Waterlogged archaeological wood can provide information on past human activities and technology but its structure may be modified due to microbial deterioration. Knowing its conservation state is fundamental for its restoration. Aim of this work was to test the use of non-destructive portable NMR for the microstructural characterization and preservation state of three archaeological wood samples (Roman age, 5th century AD). 1D T1 and T2 relaxation time distributions, as well as 2D T1-T2 and D-T2 distributions were measured by single-sided NMR and interpreted with the help of high resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and optical microscopy. Due to the complexity of the ancient wood samples, in this first study a multi-analytical approach was required. It allowed the characterization of both waterlogged softwood (spruce) and hardwood (chestnut and maple) by quantifying relaxation times and diffusion water components affected by the presence of degradation products such as fungi, paramagnetic agents, and microstructural changes. Optical microscopy was needed to investigate the sub-microscopic wood elements not resolved by MRI and validate indirect single-sided NMR investigations. Observations and results of this study will allow the improvement of single-sided NMR protocols for the analyses of archaeological wood in situ with portable NMR.
In urban environments, degradation processes affecting both natural and artificial carbonate materials commonly result in the formation of sulphate-based deposits (i.e., black crusts). Hyperspectral techniques may provide ready-to-use information on the degree of sulphation of carbonate stone, hence helping to monitor the conservation state of carbonate stone monuments. In this study, the Short-Wave InfraRed (SWIR) hyperspectral technique was tested on the world-famous marble-made Loggia di Baccio d’Agnolo in Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral of Florence (Italy), affected by extensive “black crust” formation. A SWIR method based on a portable spectroradiometer (ASD Fieldspec® 3) was applied to verify the efficacy of different cleaning methods (i.e., laser, chemical and microbial). The interpretation of the SWIR spectra was based on a full-profile approach, in which the calcite and gypsum contributions were evaluated by weighing the best fit simulated contributions of reference compounds. The technique was able to provide in real time semi-quantitative determinations of the amount of gypsum developed on the stone surface, demonstrating to be a fast and handy routine tool during restoration of artworks.
In 2018 all of Leonardo's drawings and manuscripts belonging to the Biblioteca Reale di Torino were moved to ICRCPAL for a complete scientific characterisation in preparation for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the artist's death. Except for the famous Autoritratto that was already studied twice in this manner (2012, 2015), the other drawings and documents had never been subjected to scientific investigations. This paper reports the results of the non‐destructive analysis of two drawings: Studi di gambe virili and Autoritratto. The use of three complementary techniques, namely macro‐X Ray Fluorescence (MA‐XRF), μ‐Raman spectroscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), that have different penetration into the material, allowed for the complete chemical characterisation of the artworks. The analyses evidenced the artist's versatility and his mastery in the use of metal points, even unusual ones, such as the pure copper‐point described in literature but never previously revealed in Leonardo's drawings and, to the knowledge of the authors, also in other artists of the 15th century. MA‐XRF also showed the presence of pentimenti in the Studi di gambe virili and highlighted that the Autoritratto was drawn without a metal point preparatory sketch. AFM topographies also revealed that the Autoritratto urgently requires chemical stabilisation. The data collected underline the need to reconsider and reassess the historic‐artistic descriptions of the drawings and that further investigation of other works by Leonardo is necessary to obtain more information supported by scientific studies on the artist's techniques and materials.
Waterlogged archaeological wood is exposed to a high risk of biological degradation during the post-excavation phases of storage and restoration. For this reason, often biocides must be used to preserve wooden remains. In the present work three essential oils (cinnamon, wild thyme, and common thyme) were tested as possible alternative biocides to use in the preservation of waterlogged archaeological wood. The oils were first tested in vitro to establish the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and to evaluate the biocidal activity on selected fungal strains. Then, the established MIC was applied on waterlogged archaeological wood samples and during an actual restoration treatment. The effectiveness of the oils was evaluated through cultural analyses, ATP quantification, and next-generation sequencing. The results showed that the oils caused a significant decrease in the vitality of fungal mycelia grown in vitro and of the microbiota present in treated wood and storage water. Furthermore, an influence on the composition of the bacterial communities of treated wood samples was observed. Although further tests are needed to evaluate interferences with the materials used during restoration procedures, essential oils could be considered as a possible alternative to the currently used biocide.
The series, directed by Flavia De Rubeis and Dorit Raines, is the result of an agreement stipulated between the Veneto Region and the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice with special reference to the Master in Science and Management of archive-keeping and bibliographic material and co-published with the Region Veneto, sponsor corporation. The series aims to disseminate the researches relating to the enhancement of the cultural deposits of the region through joint works between teachers and young researchers in the field of the Master related, and to the material used for teaching purposes or teaching support.
Leonardo's drawing technique has always been amongst the most fascinating topics in art history. To date, all conclusions on the materials that Leonardo used to perform his graphical works are mostly based on visual investigation. The support of technical analysis in this regard is still very limited. This paper focuses on the investigation - by means of non-invasive Raman and XRF spectroscopy and MA-XRF imaging spectroscopy - of two important drawings that Leonardo completed with the metalpoint technique. The research is part of a broader scientific project on twelve Leonardo drawings belonging to the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, coordinated by the Istituto Centrale Restauro e Conservazione Patrimonio Archivistico e Librario (ICRCPAL) in Rome. The project is aimed at characterization of the material components used and establishing the state of conservation of the artworks. The combination of Raman and XRF results together with the elemental distribution images provided by MA- XRF, allowed for an improved description of Leonardo's drawing technique. It also brought new fascinating insights on the analyzed graphic media, starting from the unusual use of a copper-based metalpoint, up to the peculiar white bone preparation.
Conservation of contemporary art requires deep knowledge of techniques and materials used, in order to assess their decay rate and identify the proper way to preserve art objects; scientific investigations are thus fundamental for conservation purposes. This paper presents a multi-analytical approach based on the use of both non-invasive and micro-destructive techniques for the study of a contemporary artwork from the Italian artist Paola Levi-Montalcini. Object of this work is Nel Deserto, made in 1966 using several different modern materials. The mixed-media nature of the artwork required a complete characterization of the materials, preliminary to the challenging conservation intervention. Before the intervention, Nel Deserto was in fact showing severe signs of degradation, which prevented it from being exposed to the public. The analytical approach was based on the preliminary use of portable microscopy and XRF, followed by micro-FTIR on diamond cell and low-pressure SEM-EDS and allowed achieving fundamental information on the materials while not harming visibly the artwork. The interaction between a transparent film (made of a poly(vinyl chloride) copolymer) and a bronze-based paint, triggered untypical degradation phenomena. The loss of hydrochloric acid from the chlorine containing polymer led in fact to the formation of dark green colored copper halides, which irremediably altered the artwork.
Recently, an oil‐on‐panel painting, portraying Leonardo da Vinci, was found in the monastery of Camaldoli (Arezzo, Italy). The painting comes from a private donation and, over time, it never was moved from the monastery or loaned to museums or art galleries for exhibitions. Historians hypothesise that the painting could be a seventeenth‐century copy of a portrait or a self‐portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. Although, almost certainly, the panel was not signed by Leonardo, it raised a great interest for art experts, since the copy could be the outstanding testimony left to us of an original Leonardo's masterpiece, which is gone lost. The ICRCPAL in Rome, in collaboration with the ISPC‐CNR and the INFN‐LNS of Catania, started a scientific investigation of the painting based on the use of non‐invasive techniques. Macro X‐ray fluorescence imaging technique (MA‐XRF) was employed to document, for the first time, the nature of original pigments composing the pictorial and priming layers. The results allowed to better elucidate the painting technique, also to know the original look of degraded areas, suggesting an appropriate restoration and conservation policy. Novel information has been obtained concerning the pictorial process, since elemental distribution maps revealed an underpainting below the Leonardo portrait. Despite the cleaning process of the panel before its reuse, some pictorial details remained visible to the MA‐XRF analysis, allowing to infer the presumed figure hidden behind the figure of Leonardo.
Conservators and restorers often encounter pressure sensitive adhesive tapes used for conservation reasons. This type of tape has been used to repair documents or pages of books or on torn documents. The adhesives frequently found are composed of either natural or synthetic rubber or of acrylics. The pressure sensitive adhesive tapes (PSTs) consist of four layers: the release coating, the backing, the primer and the adhesive. The restoration often requires the removal of the adhesive or backing or any other of the PST layers affecting paper artworks since degradation products could originate from one or more of these layers. In this work, six pressure sensitive adhesive tapes often found on paper works of art were analysed with Py-GC-MS in order to obtain a chemical classification of the PSTs as a whole, as well as, for the first time, of the single layers. The pyrolytic products detected allowed to recognize two main classes of adhesives: acrylic and styrene block copolymers. Among acrylic types, different copolymers, such as poly(BA-MMA-2EHA), poly(BA-MMA) and poly(BA-EA) have been used often together with phthalate and adipate plasticizers. On the other hand, the styrene-isoprene-styrene and the styrene-butadiene-styrene copolymers were identified for styrene block type. In these adhesives, more terpenoid tackifiers have been revealed. In the backing layers the pyrolyzates suggested the use of polypropylene, cellulose acetate, paper or polyvinyl chloride. Only for one sample, the insulating tape, it was possible to detach the release coating from the backing layer and so to identify its acrylic nature. The exact knowledge of different layers of PSTs could help restorers to select an optimal removal procedure.
Nature Carpets are installations realized by Piero Gilardi using expanded polyurethane, cut, shaped, and painted with vibrant colors in order to portrait natural sceneries. Their intrinsic mixed media nature often exposes them to fast degradation. While it is well known how Nature Carpets are realized using expanded poly(ether urethane), material particularly prone to fast oxidative degradation, the chemical composition of the paint often remains unknown. Furthermore, it has been reported how the artist changed his working technique during the years, in order to increase the life-span of his artworks. Since the paint layer protects the internal expanded foam core, for conservation purposes it is extremely important to know its composition. This study presents analytical results on the materials used in two Nature Carpets: La Grotta (1981, restored in 1989) and Scoglio Sonoro Interattivo (1997), focusing in particular on the paint layer composition. A micro-spectroscopic approach was chosen to obtain as much information as possible from minimal sampling, in order not to damage the artworks.
Documentation and conservation of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) are crucial to preserving humankind’s history and traditions, safeguarding tangible testimonies of past human life while ensuring its accessibility to future generations. The TECTONIC (Technological Consortium TO develop sustainability of underwater Cultural Heritage) project is promoting an intersectoral collaboration between academic and non-academic professionals (i.e., archaeologists, conservators, geologists, engineers, etc.) working on different topics related to UCHs, to find solutions to the issues still existing in the field. The overall aim is the exchange of skills for the improvement and assessment of innovative materials and techniques to develop solutions and marketable products for the conservation and management of the UCH, sustainably. To achieve its overall aim, TECTONIC is undertaking activities driven by the following objectives: (a) the study, documentation, and mapping of selected UCHs; (b) the creation of decision-support tools for UCH risk assessment in a changing environment; (c) the initiation of conservation studies and protocols for conservation activities; (d) the development of open and low-cost robotic solutions for the inspection of UCH; and (e) the raising of public awareness and knowledge about UCH. All the objectives are devoted to stimulating new sustainable ideas that would bring the growth of cultural tourism and the development of new marketable products by capitalizing on the research results.
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16 members
Marina Bicchieri
  • Department of Chemistry
Silvia Sotgiu
  • Conservation
Giulia Galotta
  • Department of Biology
Rome, Italy