The nanoscience of art restoration

Nanotechnology is now being used to save Renaissance masterpieces. Italian researchers have successfully used nanoparticles of calcium and magnesium hydroxide and carbonate to restore ancient artworks, such as Maya paintings in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico or Italian wall paintings and frescoes. But read more...

In a very informative article, Nanowerk Spotlight reports that nanotechnology is now being used to save Renaissance masterpieces. Italian researchers have successfully used nanoparticles of calcium and magnesium hydroxide and carbonate to restore ancient artworks, such as Maya paintings in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico or Italian wall paintings and frescoes dating from the 15th century. They've also applied their techniques to 'restore old paper documents and to treat acidic wood from a 400-year-old shipwreck.' But read more...

Before going further, and as I wrote in a previous post about nanocosmetics having being used since the Pharaohs, Nanowerk LLC, based in Hawaii, is the home of the Nanomaterial Database, a "tool for the nanotechnology community to research and buy nanomaterials from many suppliers worldwide" which currently contains 1,354 nanoparticles from 93 suppliers.

Here are some excerpts from this excellent Nanowerk Spotlight article.

Aside from the enormously rich cultural resources in the city of Florence, it is one of the most suitable places for conservation studies. For example, after the 1966 Florence flood, the Center for Colloid and Surface Science (CSGI) research group at the University of Florence, [...] currently directed by Piero Baglioni, was the first academic institution that applied a rigorous scientific approach to the investigation of cultural heritage degradation.

Baglioni and his team have developed several "nanotechnology-based methods for the restoration of wall paintings. These include methods for cleaning and removal of resins from wall and oil paintings, for frescoes consolidation, and for paper de-acidification."

Lets's look at some examples of these nanotechnology-based methods at work. Below are two pictures of a Crucifixion by by Beato Angelico (15th century, Florence). "On the left, a pre-restoration image of the wall painting. On the right, a post-restoration image. Desulfatation and consolidation was performed with the Ferroni–Dini method." (Credit for photos: Daniela Dini; credit for caption: CSGI).

Nanorestoration of a Crucifixion by Beato Angelico

And below are other photos of wall paintings by Santi di Tito in the Cathedral of Florence. "Calcium hydroxide stable dispersions were successfully applied, instead of organic glues, as fixatives to re-adhere lifted paint layers." (Credit: CSGI)

Nanorestoration of Santi di Tito's wall paintings

You all can read the Nanowerk Spotlight very interesting article, but I still want you to look at Baglioni's explanations about the core principles of successful restoration.

"Restoration should provide the reinforcement of the porous structure and the consolidation of the surface layer of artefacts. A few simple principles can be considered to define the most appropriate restoration method: 1) the treatment should be reversible so that one can revert to the original status of the work of art at any desired time; 2) all the applied chemicals must ensure the maximum durability and the chemical inertness; 3) the applied chemicals must invert the degradation processes without altering the chemical composition of the artefacts and their physico-chemical and mechanical properties, i.e. the applied chemicals must be as compatible as possible with the artefacts’ materials."

For more information, you also should read a long technical paper available from CSGI, 'Colloidal Science and Nanotechnology for Cultural Heritage Conservation," from which the illustrations about Santi di Tito's paintings have been picked.

And for even more details, some of Baglioni's latest work has been published by Soft Matter, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, under the name "Soft and hard nanomaterials for restoration and conservation of cultural heritage" (Volume 2, Issue 4, Pages 293-303, February 2006). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 11 pages, 580 KB). The illustration on the top has been extracted from this paper.

Sources: Michael Berger, Nanowerk Spotlight, October 23, 2006; and various websites

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