The art of heritage: a unique model for the study, conservation and restoration of our heritage
The activities of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage are based on six principles, which generate a unique added value.
The strength of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage lies in the cross-disciplinary collaboration of experts from the various fields of heritage research: art historians, chemists, physicists, conservator-restorers, photographers, specialists in scientific imaging, engineers, geologists, etc. Each lays out an essential part of the scientific puzzle. In this way, together they can rise to the the most complex challenges in the conservation of heritage.
Paul Coremans (1908-1965), founder and first director of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, was the pioneer of the interdisciplinary model for the preservation of heritage. By approaching a work of art, heritage item or building from different complementary angles, it is possible to understand it in all its aspects and come up with the most appropriate and sustainable conservation solutions.
The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage is a team of more than 100 seasoned experts with a shared passion for heritage. Together they possess unparalleled expertise in the research and treatment of works of art, monuments and the most diverse heritage items. Since 1948, they have been improving upon their unique knowledge in various fields and have become internationally renowned as the research institution of reference for Belgian heritage.
To maintain this high standard, we invest in our staff:
- continuous training and development
- internal and external exchange of knowledge and experience between experts
- senior scientists in each discipline, with ongoing enrichment by talented young staff.
We strive towards the consistant use of cutting-edge technology. This advanced technology supports the expertise and interdisciplinary cooperation of the staff. The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage boasts an exceptional range of high-tech equipment.
This includes highly specialized experts who can draw maximum insight from the research data through their adeptness at interpretation. The equipment used in the Institute is also increasingly portable. This mobility enables us to take it to the item under study, therefore avoiding unnecessary transportation of the item and minimizing the costs and risks associated with vulnerable heritage items.
Respect for the object is always paramount in choosing the technique to be used: where possible, we opt for non-invasive analyses. We work with various types of radiation that cause no damage to the object. If this is impossible, we opt for a micro-sample, and even then, we prefer to use non-destructive methods.
As a federal scientific institution, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage has established long-term collaborations with many Belgian and international partners: universities, research institutes, private and public foundations, museums, heritage administrations, regions and communities, professional associations, etc. The Institute plays a central and facilitating role in the Belgian heritage network and acts as a gateway to the world. The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage is a (founding) member of most global heritage organisations.
Heritage care is a shared concern. The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage actively strengthens the structural cooperation between the various heritage stakeholders in Belgium. Our heritage, managed by the communities and regions, benefits from our unique expertise. As a federal institution, the Institute is recognized as a neutral centre of expertise for all levels of government.
The collection, archiving, and accessibility of scientific heritage data from all disciplines involved is one of the Institute's core tasks. A thorough research or treatment report of art and heritage items is essential for further study or consultation by later generations of heritage scientists and restorers. The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage is therefore fully committed to this goal. Since its establishment in 1948, it has collected an immense wealth of knowledge: more than 20,000 research and intervention files.
One of the pillars of our service is the documentation of Belgian art heritage. Our Information Centre contains over a million images. Researchers and other interested parties can visit the public reading room or the Centre for the Study of the Flemish Primitives.
The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage actively develops an open-access policy for its research data. We look for the most efficient technical means for online distribution in collaboration with European partners, such as in the pioneering HESCIDA project. The Institute plays a pioneering role in the field of open data. Just think of the BALaT image database, the Friedländer database, the website Closer to Van Eyck, and the many open-access publications. The Institute is committed to further expanding this role in the coming years.
Knowledge sharing and education
The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage strives to share its knowledge and expertise with the heritage sector and the general public as much as possible. In addition to its pioneering role in open data, the Institute is present at numerous international colloquia and platforms for knowledge sharing. Its scientists submit articles to recognized professional journals and publications.
At our annual open day, future professionals in the various heritage disciplines and other interested people, young and old, meet our experts and discover the finer aspects of heritage conservation.
In addition, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage maintains a long tradition of international internships to prepare future experts in the field of heritage. Our staff members also carry out teaching assignments at universities, colleges and academies in Belgium and abroad.