Historical Techniques and Modern Methods of Investigation: Interpretive Potentials of Specialized Examination Methods of Medieval Art Using Innovative Technology
The NAKI Project – DF13P01OVV010
Investigator: Prof. PhDr. Vít Vlnas, Ph.D.
The project responds to the need to reassess the collection of Bohemian medieval and early-renaissance artworks in the National Gallery in Prague in light of research into historical techniques. It reacts to the rapid development in a field that makes use of ever more advanced analytical and imaging methods. These investigative methods reveal new details about the technical condition of the artworks, the technique used to make them, as well the process of their creation. The National Gallery in Prague is in a unique position because it houses the largest collection of these artworks in the Czech Republic. The degree of our knowledge about the artworks' material composition differs significantly in different parts of the collection and so one of the goals of the project is to eliminate this imbalance. As points of departure for our analysis, we selected coherent groups of artworks which share the same date or place of origin, or were made by the same workshop, because in such cases, the results can be generalized. We will evaluate the data acquired through complementary imaging and analytical methods, and gather the findings about the current condition of the artworks. At the same time, we will put together a unique set of complex results of material examination of medieval art. The National Gallery houses a unique archive in its conservation department as well as the archive of the chemical-technological laboratory, and so the results of the analyses using modern methods (IRR, X-ray fluorescence, Raman spectroscopy) can be compared with earlier conservation and scientific research. The project will create factual and methodological foundations for further research in the field. Researchers will be able to use the data for studying historical technologies and for art-historical evaluation (more precise attribution, dating, local specifics), as well as in practice (restoration, heritage protection). Integral to the project is the collaboration with Czech Technical University (CTU) in the field of non-destructive x-ray fluorescence analysis. The CTU's experts assembled a functional sample apparatus for analysis using confocal X-ray fluorescence. In an innovative and unique way, this method enlarges the spectrum of results in 3D, that is, in depth profile of the element analysis. It allows for non-invasive gathering of data previously acquired by taking samples from artworks (stratigraphy of paint layers). Such analysis is impossible using commercial tools for X-ray fluorescence. Both institutions collaborate on verifying the effectiveness of the new apparatus by comparing the new findings with the results of conventional analyses of micro-samples. Experts from the chemical-technological laboratory have fully established the complex use of Raman spectroscopy as a method of examining art materials. The National Gallery is currently the only art museum in the Czech Republic to use both microscopic and instrumental techniques, such as X-ray fluorescence analysis, electron microscope with energy-dispersive detector and molecular analysis by way of Raman spectroscopy, for analysing art materials. The highly qualified members of the investigative team ensure interdisciplinary presentation of outcomes and incorporation of the results in university education and international collaborations. The project's outcomes include a series of exhibitions and publications, pedagogical programs, methodology, a heritage procedure, electronic documents, journal articles, active participation in conferences and organizing seminars.