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Chemistry in the service of historical and cultural heritage

Adrián Durán, professor at the University of Navarra, highlights the role of this science in the restoration and conservation of works of art.

09/11/11 15:51
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Adrián Durán PHOTO: Manuel Castells

Adrián Durán, professor and researcher of the department of Chemistry and Edaphology of the University of Navarra and expert in the scientific study of works of art, gave the talk"Science and art: a chemist in the basements of the Louvre" on the occasion of the Science and Technology Weeks 2011, in which the academic center participates with various conferences, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, etc.

According to the specialist, the scientific study of works of art has made it possible, in recent years, to carry out restoration and conservation processes through non-destructive analysis methods, which do not require taking an important sample that could damage the work. Likewise, equipment has been developed that allows in situ analysis of the objects, thus avoiding the risks of transportation, insurance, etc.

On the other hand, the role of graduates in Chemistry in the teams of research, restoration and maintenance of works of art in museums, buildings, restoration workshops, etc. is essential to know the chemical processes of degradation of works due to environmental factors or human beings: "Our task includes the authentication of the pieces and the confirmation of their authorship, for which we analyze the materials used, the way they are used, we date the works of art and also find forgeries".

"Knowing the technology of each era, the techniques used for the construction of works of art and past civilizations are also tools that we apply in our work", adds the professor of the Degrees of Chemistry and Pharmacy.

The fingerprint of a painting
Regarding the latest technologies used in the world of art, the expert of the School of Sciences of the University of Navarra points out some such as X-ray diffraction and Raman spectroscopy, as well as IR spectroscopy, capable of detecting the heterogeneity of a mixture of pigments: "Something very common in works of art, in which the colored pigments are usually inorganic compounds and binders, oils, glues, gums or resins, which are organic compounds".

In this sense, the specialist, who gave this talk to about a hundred students from high school diploma and teachers, concluded that both Chemistry and Physics "have made it possible to ensure the authenticity of the works, determine their origins, their manufacturing techniques and, thus, help in their restoration and conservation".

Adrián Durán has been researcher of the high school de Ciencias de los Materiales de Sevilla (belonging to the committee Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), of the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (Laboratories of the Louvre Museum) and is the author of more than 40 publications in scientific journals related to the scientific study of works of art.