Our experts master a wide range of scientific analysis techniques to understand works of art, heritage items and historic buildings. To avoid damaging the often unique and vulnerable objects, they use non-invasive analysis techniques wherever possible. Thanks to their high degree of specialisation, cutting-edge equipment, extensive reference databases, and attractive prices, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage laboratories are the ideal partner for your heritage research.
Analytical techniques for each type of material
Over many decades, the laboratories of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage have acquired unique expertise in the study of paint layers (on sculpture, paper and parchment, murals, ancient and modern paintings, etc.), but also of textiles, glass and metal. They deploy a wide range of analytical techniques for studying stones in historical buildings and sculptures. Moreover, dendrochronology or carbon dating is a particular asset in dating buildings, works of art and archaeological objects.
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.
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.
Many exceptional gems pass through this lab: beautifully illustrated manuscripts, ink drawings, and historical documents.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scientific research, identifying the materials and techniques of our heritage and analysing their damage phenomena all provide reliable insights. Moreover, the research results are often indispensable for an optimal restoration treatment. Our experts work closely with their conservation studio colleagues and assist in the restorations carried out by diverse actors in the heritage field. Doing so often goes far beyond a detailed interpretation of the analysis results. Depending on the client's request, their reports can take the form of concrete treatment recommendations, with an eye for the cultural-historical context of the heritage item being studied.
The scientists of our institution – chemists, physicists, engineers and geologists – are active in various Belgian and international research projects. They contribute as speakers at conferences and collaborate with universities and laboratories all over Europe. In addition to their reference databases, this network gives them access to the research data of their peers. In this way, our scientists draw a maximum of helpful information for the customer from each analysis while further expanding our databases. Thanks to our Open Access policy, this benefits the entire heritage sector.