Nov 09

    Art Restoration Technology

    More Than meets the Eye: Technique and Technology of Conservation Analytics

    At Parma, “The Past” defines much of our work as conservators. We confront history each and every day by caring for artwork, immersing ourselves in research, collaborating with scholars, even duplicating antiquated artistic techniques. Yet tools and techniques for conservation go far beyond megilp or chalk from Bologna.

    Case in point: analytics. At the intersection of high art and high-tech, analytics balance the delicate, subjective nature of conservation with a dose of pure science. Services like radiographic and ultraviolet imaging cull technical and historic information from works of art, imparting knowledge to determine the conservation course of action. Further, analytics can solve puzzles of provenance, providing clues vital to authenticity. Because the best possible preservation begins with investigation, Parma offers a full line of analytical services. Below are three devices in-house that are particularly helpful in mining data behind art’s greatest masterpieces:


    Exhibit A: The X-Ray Gun

    X-rays are highly charged eletromagnetic waves that can penetrate the material layers of an artwork. Because of the differing levels of absorption in the materials, we are able to see distinct structures within the layers, which is useful for identifying hidden damage.

    As in medicine, radiographs go “down to the bone.” The ability to see beneath a painting’s surface can aid in authentication by diciphering structural additions, pentimenti and false craquelure. Even entirely hidden paintings can, quite literally, come to light.


    Exhibit B: The Surgical Microscope

    The fine optics of the Leica M651 stereo microscope allow for the precision cleaning, repair, and retouching of the painted surface.  Parma’s OMS-300 surgical microscope has plenty of room in the “theater” for hands-on conservation work both horizontally and vertically.

    Parma offers not one, but two medical grade microscopes for detailed art analysis and conservation. The most recent addition is a Leica M651 stereo microscope. Complete with micro-optics utilizing visual elements from 20 micrometers to 1 millimeter, the device is, as the Italians say, “The Ultimo.” It allows the user to work around formerly indecipherable details with ‘laser’ precision.


    Exhibit C: The Infrared Camera

    Near-infrared photograph, utilizing a CCD digital sensor. With wavelength sensitivity between 850-1000nm, the underdrawing (and hidden damage) is clearly visible.

    While many associate infrared technology with Hollywood-inspired espionage, these machines actually do “spy” covert secrets within an artwork. Where infrared light reflects what humans cannot see, the infrared camera captures buried carbon markers, primarily, of the artist’s first lines. This is of great benefit to scholars, connoisseurs and appraisers. The painting is analyzed non-invasively and the truth, finally, is out there.

    Each artwork has a narrative and quality. Analytical services add “exposition”. Whether distinguishing between restored and original, determining natural vs. synthetic, or even discovering a pastoral beneath a portrait, conservation analytics can recount fascinating back story. With over 35-years experience, the “special agents” at Parma Conservation are ready to tackle any art mystery. Case closed.

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    About The Author

    Peter Schoenmann is the Co-Director at Parma Conservation, a fine-art conservation laboratory located in Chicago, Illinois.

    1 Comment

    1. Name (required)Mark O'Brien
      November 9, 2019 at 7:58 pm ·