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Art Restoration: Technique Removes Old Polymer Layers From Sensitive Historic Artworks

Date:
November 3, 2009
Source:
Wiley-Blackwell
Summary:
Italian researchers have developed a technique to effectively remove old polymer layers from sensitive historic artworks. The new cleaning system involves only a tiny proportion of volatile organic compounds.

Oil-in-water nanocontainers within an aqueous polymer network were effective for the low-impact selective cleaning of painted and gilded surfaces. Interactions with the polymer (black in the schematic illustration) did not alter the structure of the microemulsion nanodroplets (light blue and red) significantly. A photograph of an equilibrated mixture of the microemulsion and the polymer is shown.
Credit: Copyright Wiley-VCH 2009

In the past, restoration of paintings and other old artwork often involved application of acrylic resins to consolidate and protect them. One of the most important tasks for modern restorers is thus to remove these layers, because it turns out that acrylic resins not only drastically change the optics of the treated artwork, but in many cases they accelerate their degradation.

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Italian researchers working with Piero Baglioni at the University of Florence have now developed a technique to effectively remove such old polymer layers from sensitive historic artworks. As the researchers report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the new cleaning system involves only a tiny proportion of volatile organic compounds. "We have demonstrated the first successful application of a water-based system for the removal of an organic layer from artwork," says Baglioni. "In addition, our method is simpler and less invasive than traditional processes."

The scientists use an oil-in-water microemulsion with the organic solvent para-xylene as the oil component. An emulsion is a fine dispersion of droplets of one liquid in another liquid with which the first is not miscible. One example from our daily lives is milk. A microemulsion is an emulsion that forms spontaneously and is stable. It contains substances that act as emulsifiers. Because the individual drops are only nanometer-sized, the mircoemulsion is not milky and opaque, but clear and transparent.

The Italian researchers embedded their micoremulsion in a matrix of a modified type of cellulose -- a material used as a thickener for emulsion paints. The matrix makes the cleaning agent viscous, so that it cannot enter very far into the pores of a painting. Its activity is limited to the outer layer, whilst deeper layers of paint do not come into contact with the xylene. The environment is protected as well, because of the very low concentration of volatile solvent, the evaporation of which is further limited by the matrix. The optical transparency of the system also allows the restorer to continuously monitor the cleaning process.

"We successfully cleaned a mural from the 15th century," reports Baglioni. This painting is located in the Santa Maria della Scala Sacristy in Siena. "It was covered with a 35 year old layer of acrylic from a previous restoration. Our new system allowed us to completely remove the undesirable shine. We were also able to clean another art work: a gilt frame from an 18th century painting."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Piero Baglioni. Nanoscience for Art Conservation: Oil-in-Water Microemulsions Embedded in a Polymeric Network for the Cleaning of Works of Art. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, DOI: 10.1002/anie.200904244

Cite This Page:

Wiley-Blackwell. "Art Restoration: Technique Removes Old Polymer Layers From Sensitive Historic Artworks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091027103107.htm>.
Wiley-Blackwell. (2009, November 3). Art Restoration: Technique Removes Old Polymer Layers From Sensitive Historic Artworks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091027103107.htm
Wiley-Blackwell. "Art Restoration: Technique Removes Old Polymer Layers From Sensitive Historic Artworks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091027103107.htm (accessed March 27, 2015).

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