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Krakow, Wawel. They showed museums how to save money. Investigations of the cracked painting layer in paintings

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An international team of scientists – including researchers from Krakow – has created the most precise documentation of valuable, age-old paintings ever created. By analyzing cracks in the painting layer, they proved that ancient works are not as sensitive to environmental conditions as they thought. The results of the research presented at Wawel allow museums to save money on maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity. They can also become greener.

An international group of researchers – including specialists from the Wawel Royal Castle, the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim – created a three-dimensional physical model of the original cracked painting layers in centuries-old paintings. As part of their research, they proved that images with a developed network of cracks are much less sensitive to microclimate instabilities – for example, temperature and humidity fluctuations – than previously thought.

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Will “green” museums defend themselves against activists?

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– This opens the way to a significant reduction in the energy consumption by museums used for the operation of devices that provide stable climatic conditions for paintings and will thus support the idea of ​​a “green” museum – said Prof. Łukasz Bratasz from the Institute of Catalysis and Surface Physicochemistry. Jerzy Haber PAN during the presentation of research results at the Wawel Royal Castle.

The scientist noted that “apart from the ethical dimension, the saved funds can be used to protect collections against other factors” – Reducing the carbon footprint of museums will also help build the image of a “green museum” in terms of protecting collections against the actions of environmental activists – Bratasz added.

The professor noted that so far, museums have based their recommendations regarding the storage of paintings on research that did not take into account the networks of paint cracks.

The representative of the Polish Academy of Sciences noted that thanks to the research, scientists can indicate “which cracks were caused by the microclimate and which are characteristic of the material used, specific to the period in which the painting was created, the geographical area.”

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– We finally understood why the paintings have survived to this day in surprisingly good condition, being stored in natural microclimate conditions typical of historic churches and palaces. It is the network of cracks that makes them much more resistant to temperature and relative humidity fluctuations, noted Magdalena Soboń, a prevention specialist at the Wawel Royal Castle.

They made the work of counterfeiters more difficult

As part of the project called “Grieg Craquelure”, researchers created – as reported by the Wawel authorities – “the most precise image documentation that has so far been made using a microscopic scanner.”

On the PAN website you can find scans of three works: “Madonna under the Fir Trees” (1510) by Lukas Cranach from the collections of the Archdiocesan Museum in Wrocław, “The Last Judgment” by the follower of Hieronymus Bosch from the collections of the Wawel Royal Castle (16th century) and “Madonna with Child” ( 15th century) from St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow. By accessing each of the shared files, you can zoom in significantly – so that you can see every single crack in the paint on the computer or smartphone screen.

A close-up of the 15th-century painting “Madonna and Child” by an unknown authorhirox.ikifp.edu.pl

A close-up of the 15th-century painting “Madonna and Child” by an unknown authorhirox.ikifp.edu.pl

By understanding the process of crack formation, scientists hope in the future it will be easier to distinguish an original work from a fake.

– The network of cracks is like an object's fingerprint and the use of artificial intelligence will soon lead to the creation of a completely new quality in image authentication – explains Prof. Łukasz Bratasz.

The Wawel authorities emphasized in a statement that Polish scientists were the first in the world to “determine the properties of egg tempera, a paint typical of pre-Renaissance Italian painting.” – It is not often that Polish science contributes to the knowledge of Italian painting. We can be proud of this, said Dr. Aleksandra Hola, chief conservator of the Wawel Royal Castle.

Main photo source: hirox.ikifp.edu.pl



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