Related on TestTube
Why Science Needs Art
How Creativity and Mental Illness Are Related
Although some pieces of art may seem timeless, the truth is exposure to light, moisture, and exposure to the elements will dull and damage almost any work of art. Great art should needs to be displayed in order to be enjoyed, but doing so inevitably exposes it to light, and light--especially the ultraviolet kind--can cause the chemical bonds in dyes to breakdown and make the colors fade. The practice of art restoration is almost as old as art itself. As soon as the paint on Leonardo Da Vinci's iconic fresco The Last Supper was dry, it started to crack. Since it was unveiled in 1498, it's been repainted, glazed over, and touched up numerous times. Sometimes the process of restoration can have disastrous effects on the work of art. According to Yale Scientific magazine, "Old conservation manuals suggested covering the entire painting in wood-ash and then wiping it off with water, a process that caused an extremely alkaline substance harmful to the painting to form." Today, the goal of a painting restoration is to, "ensure that you do no harm to the work, and that wherever possible anything you do could be reversed by a later generation".
Considered one of Michelangelo's greatest works of art, the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel underwent a massive restoration that started in the late1980s. A solvent made of bicarbonate of sodium and ammonium, AB-57, was and carefully applied by brush, and after carefully wiped away along with centuries of built-up grime. This layer of glue has since become a matter of controversy: some historians claim it was Michelangelo's doing, other's claim it was a disastrous restoration made years later. It's hard to tell what Michelangelo's original intent was since there aren't any photographs from back then. Conservationists had to rely on what people had written about when the frescoes were first displayed. And therein lies another problem with art restoration: are art restorers removing grime or pigments put there by the painter? Modern science may be able to help conservationists figure out the answers without destroying the art.
The same light that can make art dull may also be the key to restoring it. Many restorations start with an x-ray or infrared imaging. Infrared imaging works by detecting all of the wavelengths of light that the painting absorbs and reflects, which is more than the human eye can see. Some of these infrared wavelengths penetrate deeper than visible light, and by getting past the paint, they can reveal underdrawings and previous versions of the work and help inform the restorers about the artist's original intent. Engineer Pascal Cotte used a new technique called Layer Amplification Method (LAM) to look at da Vinci's painting, Lady with an Ermine. Intense pulses of light allowed him to see between the layers of paint, revealing that the artists changed in his mind a lot before he settled on the final painting.
What do you think? Should art be restored or should the effects of the passing of time be included in how we see a piece? Let us know how you feel in the comments down below.
Art Restoration: The Fine Line Between Art and Science (Yale)
"In the 1800s and 1900s, the practice of conservation was quite commonplace. Even paintings by the Old Masters were redone frequently to match the taste of the time. As described by Mr. McClure, a study of treatments of "The View of Delft" by Johannes Vermeer "looked back to something like 1800 and found that it had been modified about 50 times."
Modern Chemistry Techniques Save Ancient Art (Scientific American)
"The history of art conservation is almost as long as the history of art itself. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes were first restored in the mid-16th century, only decades after being painted."