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ArtGarden: Research Closed Courtyards and preventive conservation of Mixed-Media objects

How do you preserve items made of various materials, such as the Enclosed gardens (Besloten Hofjes) in Mechelen? Within the ArtGarden project, an interdisciplinary research team determines the ideal preservation conditions for these kinds of historical mixed-media items. We make the results accessible to the broader heritage sector through an online tool.

KU Leuven
Universiteit Antwerpen
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Marjolijn Debulpaep, Head of Preventive Conservation
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Motive: the restoration of the Mechelse Hofjes

In 2014, an interdisciplinary team of independent conservators started the restoration of the seven ‘Besloten Hofjes’ in the Museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen. These Hofjes are a unique collection of richly upholstered retable cases from the early 16th century and are included on the Flemish Masterpieces List. They are filled with delicate sculptures, objects and elements in many materials: wood, silk, wax, alabaster, pipe clay, parchment, glass, coral, metal. It is unique that these Hofjes have been preserved so well.

More about the restoration of the Enclosed gardens

Preventive conservation

In parallel with the restoration treatment, the project members are also looking for the best way to preserve the Enclosed gardens for future generations through preventive conservation. "This is a complex challenge, as each material has its specific conservation requirement," says Marjolijn Debulpaep, Head of Preventive Conservation at the Institute. "Following an in-depth analysis of the Walled Gardens and some other mixed media objects, we have identified the optimal conservation conditions for these cultural heritage items based on ten risk factors."

Methodology and analysis techniques

The team members conducted various studies using several analytical techniques to determine the ideal storage conditions for these materials.

Source analysis in the history of art and technology

The researcher describes the provenance, historical context and iconography of these objects, as well as the historical techniques and materials used to make them.

Scientific imaging

The researcher visualised the texture, shapes and depth structure of the Walled Gardens and other objects using modern imaging techniques:

Scientific research on materials and techniques

The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage laboratories, the University of Antwerp and the KU Leuven shared their expertise. They map out the brilliant materials used and the degradation processes present.

Marina Van Bos

For identifying the materials and degradation processes, we mainly work with non-invasive analysis techniques, such as X-ray fluorescence. Where necessary, we take small material samples for additional analysis.

Marina Van Bos, head of Paper, Leather and Parchment Lab

A user-friendly tool for the heritage sector

To find out what risks the materials in your mixed-media object are exposed to and how you can avoid damage, we built Agato, a Decision Support Tool that gives an immediate assessment of the risks with valuable recommendations.

Elke Otten

The different materials in these complexly composed objects each have specific requirements for preservation. In 2022, we will launch Agato: an online tool to help heritage professionals with the preventive conservation of mixed-media objects.

Elke Otten

Unique interdisciplinary cooperation

The project is carried out by an interdisciplinary team. Within the Institute, the Preventive Conservation Unit is coordinating the project. The laboratories examine materials and techniques based on case studies in collaboration with the Glass and Ceramics Studio and the Textile Studio, while the Documentation Department is responsible for the imaging.

The other partners are the KU Leuven (Illuminare - Study Centre for Medieval Art and the Book Heritage Lab) and the University of Antwerp (research group AXES).

This project was realised with the generous support of our financial partners

It was funded by the BRAIN programme of BELSPO.

X126925 gold Web

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