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Groundbreaking research on image crack networks. A great success for an international team of scientists

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These are groundbreaking research results on a global scale from an international group of scientists, including specialists from the Wawel Royal Castle, the Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. They explained the causes of characteristic cracks in priceless paintings. The research provides new tools to increase the protection of collections in museums, but also to assess the originality of paintings.

The network of cracks is like a fingerprint – it is different for each image. Scientists from Krakow were the first in the world to answer the questions that bother the world of art – how it is created and why it takes on such different patterns.

The conservation criteria applicable in museums are exaggerated

– The technique used by the artists, what materials, what binders, what pigments were used, thickness, place of execution – lists the factors influencing the creation of a specific network of cracks, Dr. Aleksandra Hola, chief conservator of the Wawel Royal Castle. As part of the research, the most precise image documentation ever made using a microscopic scanner was created. – Understanding the process of formation of the crack network, what layer it is in, whether it is only the masonry layer or also in the mortar, what the shape of the cracks in general, gives us a lot of tools to determine the causes of its formation, the time of formation and the entire process – Hola explains. Research has shown that the conservation criteria applicable in museums are exaggerated. Harvest protection can be more ecological. – We explained why objects stored in natural conditions have survived to this day in such a good state of preservation. We have shown that objects, images with a developed network of cracks, are much less sensitive to temperature and relative humidity instabilities than previously thought, says Professor Łukasz Bratasz from the Jerzy Haber Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry at the National Academy of Sciences.

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Some cracks occur naturally, others – due to too rapid aging

The research opened up the possibility of reducing the amount of energy used to operate devices that provide appropriate climatic conditions for images. As the scientists emphasize, their discovery will help build the image of a “green” museum. – In the past, museum conditions were very strict, for example, museums allowed plus or minus 5 percent fluctuations in relative air humidity to make it safer. However, now we see that these conditions can be balanced. However, by balancing and relaxing conservation guidelines, this leads to huge energy savings, admits Hola.

SEE ALSO: It has never been shown in public. Jan Matejko's painting at an exhibition in Krakow

So far, outstanding art conservators have been able to distinguish the typical network of cracks characteristic of, for example, Italian paintings, but no one has had such precise knowledge before. – We can distinguish between networks of cracks that arise naturally and networks of cracks that arise during accelerated aging, which is the way in which object forgers generate a network of cracks in the paintings they sell – says Bratasz.

More precise knowledge will help assess the authenticity of the paintings

This makes it possible to create a huge database of crack networks in order to compare works and assess their authenticity.

– (Counterfeiters – editor's note) will probably have to change the methods of producing images, and to be honest, I don't know how it will be possible, because this network of cracks is very difficult to reproduce. Creating a network of cracks for an Italian painting, for example, is almost impossible – admits Bratasz.

Artificial intelligence will be able to show which image contains anomalies and which meshes do not match a specific artist.

Author:Stefania Kulik

Main photo source: TVN24

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