Motive: the restoration of the Enclosed Gardens
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 Gardens are a unique collection of richly upholstered retable cases from the early 16th century and are listed 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 Enclosed Gardens have been preserved so well.
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 Enclosed Gardens and some other mixed media objects, we have identified the optimal conservation conditions for these cultural heritage items based on ten agents of deterioration."
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 researchers describe the provenance, historical context and iconography of these objects, as well as the historical techniques and materials used to make them.
The researchers visualised the texture, shapes and depth structure of the Enclosed Gardens and other objects using modern imaging techniques:
- X-ray photography
- infrared reflectography
- high-resolution images with the Portable Light Dome van de KU Leuven.
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.
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.
Would you like to know if your historic mixed media object is conserved in a safe way? To which elements in the environment of your object you should pay attention so they would not harm your object? Or on which materials you should keep an eye because they risk degrading?
AGATO will assist you with an overview of risks that could cause damage to your object and with recommendations for the preventive conservation of the materials most susceptible for damage. These should enable you to decide which action to take.
Available for free from 8 December 2022 on agato.kikirpa.be.
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.
Unique interdisciplinary cooperation
The strength of the ArtGarden project lies in the powerful collaboration between the three scientific project partners, which include :
- the Preventive Conservation Unit (coordinator), the Textile Research Lab & the Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA)
- the Faculty of Theology & Religious Studies & the Faculty of Arts of the KU Leuven University (Book Heritage Lab & VIEW - KU Leuven Core facility for Heritage Science and Digitisation Technologies)
- the Department of Bioscience Engineering of the University of Antwerp (A-Sense Lab / Antwerp Electrochemical and Analytical Sciences Lab).
This project was realised with the support of our financial partner
ArtGarden is a network-project funded by the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service Science Policy, Belspo (2016-2022). It is part of the BRAIN-be research program (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks).