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Research

Since the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage's inception, our experts and researchers have studied, documented, restored and preserved numerous well-known and less well-known masterpieces. Over the years, the Institute has carried out many beautiful projects. In most cases, these have resulted from collaboration between different disciplines and expertise within the Institute and beyond.

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Interdisciplinarity is in our DNA

The great strength of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage lies in its interdisciplinary projects with broad transversal cooperation. There is continuous cooperation between experts from disciplines such as photography, chemistry, physics, art history, conservation-restoration, etc. The interdisciplinary approach is necessary for complex restoration and research projects such as the Ghent Altarpiece or the Enclosed gardens.

We also actively seek collaborations with Belgian and international partners: universities, research institutes, private and public foundations, museums, cultural heritage authorities, regions and communities, etc. In this way, the Institute plays a central and facilitating role in the Belgian heritage network and acts as a gateway to Europe and the world. This cooperation manifests itself in, among other things:

  • national and international research projects
  • public-private partnerships
  • innovation in heritage research.

A wide range of projects

Since its inception, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage has focused on works of art, monuments and heritage objects of particular interest with an art-historical value or with an added value for scientific research. In terms of size, age, composition or origin, the works treated in our projects are exceptionally diverse.

Our conservation studios and research cells

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Painting Studio

The greatest masters from the 14th century to the present day have passed through the skilled hands of our painting experts, from the Van Eyck brothers, Pieter Bruegel, Lambert Lombard, and Peter Paul Rubens to Claude Monet or Constant Permeke. We study, conserve and restore their work with meticulous care.

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Polychrome Wood Sculpture Studio

We study and treat polychrome wood sculptures, but also sculptures made of ivory or of wax. We have a double mission: to gain a better understanding of sculptures and to ensure that they are optimally preserved for future generations.

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Stone Sculpture Studio

From monumental gateway buildings to small museum pieces: our team gives each stone sculpture the customised study and treatment it deserves. Our team leads research on materials and techniques, conducts pilot restorations and carries out conservation-restoration projects.

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Textiles Studio

At the Textiles Studio, or Conservation Studio for Historical and Contemporary Textiles, Clothing and Accessories, we focus on a wide variety of heritage items. Our starting point? Interdisciplinary research to understand the object's materiality and the context in all its dimensions. This results in treatment with minimal intervention and maximum respect for the historical and present-day function.

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Glass and Ceramics Studio

Belgian heritage also includes many items made of glass. Our glass experts devote themselves to the study, conservation and restoration of these gems. Since 2021 we have also been focusing on ceramics.

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Wall Painting Studio

The Wall Painting Studio performs pioneering work in interdisciplinary research, prevention and conservation, oriented towards scientific study and practice.

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Decoration of Monuments Unit

Window and door frames, ironwork, stucco, wallpaper... They give historic façades and interiors their unmistakable character. Our expertise on these pieces of heritage is indispensable in many restoration projects of listed buildings.

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Preventive Conservation Unit

Prevention is better than cure. The Preventive Conservation team maps out all the risks of damage to an item or collection and advises you on avoiding problems.

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Sustainability Unit

Sustainability is a broad theme that is an inherent part of our work, yet it requires a change in our mindset and daily practices. With the creation of the Sustainability Unit, KIK-IRPA puts emphasis on a sustainable transition through interdisciplinary collaboration within its own walls and for our Belgian Cultural Institutions.

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Our labs

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Painting Lab

Is it an authentic painting or a forgery? An original paint layer or rather a later addition? And how can we prevent or delay degradation? The experts of the Painting Lab uncover the answers to these and other questions from the paint.

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Polychrome Artefacts Lab

Our heritage is full of colour. The use of colour to finish sculptures and objects in wood, metal or stone, both in buildings and outdoors, is called polychromy. We study these layers to know more about our past and discover how to preserve these unique objects for the future.

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Paper, Leather and Parchment Lab

Many exceptional gems pass through this lab: beautifully illustrated manuscripts, ink drawings, and historical documents. Our researchers work carefully to identify the materials and techniques used.

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Textiles Lab

This lab is widely known for its expertise in the field of textile identification and degradation. Our specialists have studied many absolute masterpieces, from questioning and analysis to the presentation of their findings at (inter)national symposia. In doing so, they often work together with partners in Belgium and abroad.

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Glass Lab

Glass comes in all colours and shapes ‒ old or more recent glass, transparent or opaque. Our lab conducts research into all types of glass on Belgian soil. Through an interdisciplinary approach, we not only learn a lot about the glass itself but also about its historical and cultural context.

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Metals Lab

Metal is traditionally used in art to make jewellery, masks and sculptures. Weapons, coins and tools can also contain decorative elements. The Metals Lab has the necessary expertise to uncover the secrets of metal art objects or metal elements in monuments.

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Monuments and Monument Decoration Lab

Belgium abounds in valuable immovable heritage: monuments, archaeological sites, listed buildings, etc., often beautifully decorated with ornaments, sculptures, murals or mosaics. We provide analyses and research that contribute to better knowledge of our stone heritage and support its sustainable management or restoration.

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Dendrochonology Lab

The Dendrochronology Lab of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage specialises in research into and dating of movable and immovable wood. Its team offer three complementary services: dendrochronology, the identification of wood species and dendroarchaeology, i.e. the archaeology of wood.

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Radiocarbon Dating Lab

From human remains to the clothing of a Coptic mummy: radiocarbon dating allows us to discover the age of many objects. The lab has over sixty years of experience and is unique in Belgium. Its showpiece is the state-of-the-art particle accelerator MICADAS.

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Art history research

Our art historians form a team of renowned connoisseurs who focus on (mainly) Belgian art and Belgian artists. They give initial advice on identifying works of art that correspond to their specialisation or refer you to the right expert. In tandem with our photographers, the art historians work on the online heritage inventory BALaT. For advice on 15th-century paintings from our regions, you can visit our Centre for the Study of the Flemish Primitives.

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Do you want to contribute to tomorrow's heritage research?

Heritage belongs to everyone. Together, let's make sure future generations get to enjoy it.