Polychromy Revealed: from medieval wood craftsmanship to 3D printing (Paola Ricciardi)

The next post in our British Science Week 2018 series is by guest writer Paola Ricciardi. Paola Ricciardi is the Research Scientist at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. She specialises in the non-invasive analysis of polychromy (multi-coloured painting) in cultural heritage objects. In this blog, Paola talks about a workshop on digital imaging, modelling, making and interpretation of 3D cultural heritage objects and their replicas.

The Fitzwilliam Museum holds a small but exceptional collection of medieval wood sculptures, largely polychrome, made across Western Europe c.1300-1550. For the most part extremely fragile, most of the sculptures have never been exhibited and are largely unknown to the public and to academics. Following a 10-month pilot project in 2017, we are currently running a series of activities funded by the Arts and Humanities Impact Fund of the University of Cambridge. These activities are aimed at maximising the impact of the pilot and at defining routes to impact for a large-scale research project – POLYCHROMY REVEALED – which will enable us to investigate, interpret, conserve and display the collection, ultimately transforming it into a resource that can be utilised for teaching, research and public engagement.

Picture of pair of kneeling angels. Copyright Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Pair of Kneeling Angels, Northern Italy?, 15th Century. Image copyright – The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Three events, running in March-May 2018, are particularly aimed at opening a dialogue with scholars, NGOs, industrial partners and crafts/technology practitioners interested in three-dimensional digital modelling; making; interpretation of; and interaction with, cultural heritage objects and their replicas. We want to assess the state-of-the-art of research in these fields and to establish guidelines for the choice of suitable and affordable solutions, which can then be shared with other museums and cultural institutions. Museum audiences are also involved and will be asked to respond to/interact with the outcomes of the initial phase of activities, in order to inform our methodology and choices for the large-scale project.

The real potential of ever-improving 3D visualisation and ‘making’ technologies is still to be fully explored and as such it is the focus of much attention, as demonstrated for example by a well-attended two-day conference recently held at the British Museum and by the ReACH project, led by the V&A Museum. On 15 March, we ran a half-day workshop in collaboration with the University’s Digital Humanities Network. The workshop brought together experts in a range of topics related to the study of, and interaction with, three-dimensional museum objects, such as 3D sensing, digital modelling, digital and physical making, as well as interpretation and outreach. Speakers and participants discussed the various ways in which digital 3D methods can support and enhance our study and the public’s perception of three-dimensional objects.

Image of panel of speakers. Copyright The Fitzwilliam Museum
Panel speakers. From left to right: Steven Dey, Anais Aguerre, Jonathan Beck and Panel Chair, David Saunders. Image copyright – The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Workshop participants were given a demonstration of a structured light scanner which was used to produce models of a selection of polychrome wooden sculptures in the Fitzwilliam Museum collection. They were then asked to work in groups and issue a ‘creative challenge’ to design and produce objects inspired by the original medieval sculptures, based on the 3D models.

Image of Jonathan Beck using a structure light scanner to produce a 3D model of a medieval sculpture. Copyright The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Jonathan Beck using a structured light scanner to produce a 3D model of a medieval sculpture. Image copyright The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The challenge will soon be advertised to members of Cambridge’s Community Workshop MakeSpace and more broadly, and will result in their creations being displayed during a late-night opening of the Fitzwilliam Museum in May. We hope people will feel inspired by the creative challenge and we are very curious to see what they will create!

Image of working together to issue a creative challenge. Copyright The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Working together to issue a creative challenge. Image copyright The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Find out more about the Polychromy Revealed project

The Fitzwilliam Museum houses the principal collections of art and antiquities of the University of Cambridge, and holds over half a million objects in its care. It leads the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM), a consortium of the eight University Museums and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which works in partnership with other Cambridge University collections as well as with museums regionally, nationally and internationally. The University’s collections are a world-class resource for researchers, students and members of the public representing the country’s highest concentration of internationally important collections, all within walking distance of the City Centre. Arts Council England has awarded UCM National Portfolio Organisation status from 2018-2022.

Advanced imaging technologies uncover hidden details on Rubens paintings

Next in our British Science Week 2018 series, Historic Royal Palaces’ Senior Conservation Scientist Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire tells us about investigating the Rubens ceiling paintings at Banqueting House…

Historic Royal Palaces is preparing for the 400th anniversary of the Banqueting House, which will take place in 2022. During this major project we have a rare opportunity to access and study in detail the Rubens ceiling paintings, their fabrication technique and current condition.

The Banqueting House is the last surviving building of Whitehall Palace which was destroyed by fire in 1698 (Figure 1). Set within a decorative coffered ceiling designed by the building’s architect, Inigo Jones are nine paintings by Rubens, the artist’s largest and most accomplished works to remain in the context for which they were designed. The paintings were commissioned in about 1629 by Charles I as a testament to the glory of the Stuart monarchy through the depiction of his father James I’s life and achievements.

My beautiful picture
The Main Hall at Banqueting House

These internationally significant paintings are an integral component of the architecture of the hall. Originally the Banqueting House Rubens ceiling paintings were oil-on-canvas stretched on strainers, but since 1907, they were attached to plywood boards. During their long history the paintings have been restored nine times—including in 1940 when they were cut up to evacuate the gigantic panels from the building.

High-resolution multi-spectral imaging

Figure2_MultispectralImages_2018-03-12
Figure 2: Details of the multispectral gigapixel images of The Apotheosis of King James I panel (a. visible light, b. infrared reflected, c. ultraviolet-induced luminescence)

The first phase of our project involved capturing the condition of the paintings in high resolution images (Figure 2). The scale of the paintings, covering a total surface of 243 m2, and their position 17 m from the ground, made this task particularly challenging; however, recent advancements in digital photography helped us to overcome these difficulties.  Collaboration with imaging specialists developed the application of GigaPan technology to document all nine paintings from the ground in visible light and infrared light as panoramic ‘Gigapixel’ images. Ultraviolet-induced luminescence images were taken at close-range from a scaffold, by illuminating small sections of the painting and later stitching the images together to full-painting size. Superimposing the visible, infrared and ultraviolet images allows analysis and detailed classification of the current condition of the paintings as a standing record. This will underpin further investigations and inform the programme of conservation of these important paintings.

We would like to thank the following external collaborators for their expert insights and contributions to the successful progress of this cross disciplinary project: UV/IR imaging Dr Giovanni Verri (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Steven Paine (Paine & Stewart), 3D laser scanning, visible ‘Giga’ imaging John Hallett Jones (Glanville Consultants).

Assessing the light fastness of 16th century Indian paintings (Michela Rampa)

Next in our British Science Week 2018 series, Michela Rampa talks about her student placement at The British Museum, analysing colours in 16th century Indian paintings and assessing light sensitivity. Find out more at The British Museum’s British Science Week event on Saturday 17 March.

Hello, my name is Michela Rampa. I am a student from the University of Rome, La Sapienza, in Italy where I am studying to become a museum scientist. I am currently doing a student placement at The British Museum for my final dissertation. What a fantastic opportunity!

At The British Museum I am based in the Scientific Research Department but also regularly meet with conservators. I am learning how to assess whether museum objects might fade when exposed to light using “microfadeometry”. Microfadeometry is a technique that involves exposing a very small area on an object to an intense light for a short amount of time and recording the colour change on this small area. By comparing the colour change with references, it is possible estimate whether the object is sensitive to light or not.

Michela Rampa BM image1
Examination of a 16th century Indian painting

Why is it so important to assess the lightfastness of museum objects? Many museum objects are light sensitive, for instance: watercolours, prints or textiles. We cannot stop fading from occurring when these objects are displayed, but we can ensure that light-sensitive objects fade so slowly that they will be seen by countless generations of visitors to the Museum in the future. Knowing if an object is likely to fade when exposed to light helps curators to decide how long  it can be displayed and under which conditions. For example, microfading tests carried out on Hokusai’s iconic prints ‘The Great Wave’ and ‘Red Fuji’ last year showed that these should be displayed using dim light for a short amount of time (read about it here).

Michela Rampa BM image 2
Experimental Technical Imaging laboratory in The British Museum

I am currently investigating the lightfastness of some Indian paintings, which will go on display in the new Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World at the end of this year. One of them is a very colourful Hamzanama painting made in 1500. (Hamzanama is a series of manuscripts, most of them illustrated, that narrate the legendary deeds of Amir Hamza, the uncle of prophet Muhammad). It is very valuable and I have identified at least 13 different colours on it! I expected that most colours on this painting were produced using mineral pigments and therefore would not fade. However, I am discovering that, on the contrary, several colours, such as green, are light sensitive! I am hoping to perform more analysis to find out why these colours are affected by light. Work in progress!

In the meantime, if you want to know more about the work scientists do at the British Museum, please come and find me and the rest of the Scientific Research team at our annual event ZOOM IN: a closer look at science on Saturday 17 March 2018, 10.00 – 16.00, in the Great Court at The British Museum. Learn about all of the different techniques that are used to analyse the Museum’s collections, handle different kinds of raw materials and see the latest behind-the-scenes technology in action. This is a FREE event too!

Michela can be contacted by email and on LinkedIn. You can find out more about the upcoming Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World on The British Museum website.

Five minutes with… Simon Crutchley, Remote Sensing Development Manager at Historic England

Today in our British Science Week 2018 series, we sit down and talk to Simon Crutchley, Remote Sensing Development Manager at Historic England. Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about an area from a distance, from aircraft or satellites scanning the earth. Read on to find out about his career and the most exciting things he’s been up to…

What’s your scientific/heritage background?

After studying classics at university and spending a few years digging on “the circuit”, as it was called, I got a job with what was then the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) as an Air Photo Interpreter. Since that date I’ve worked in the remote sensing field for nearly 30 years, initially using standard aerial photographs, but over time working with lidar (airborne laser scanning) and more recently satellite imagery.

What’s your role at Historic England?

My primary role at Historic England (HE) is to look at new and cutting edge scientific techniques being used in remote sensing in areas outside heritage, and develop ways to utilise and integrate them into existing workflows. This is both for Historic England and the wider sector.

What’s been the most exciting / challenging thing you’ve worked on recently?

It’s probably a toss-up between two pieces; one is the work I’ve done to try and expand use of the lidar data, released by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2015, by the wider heritage sector, and particularly amateur archaeologists. For this I’ve put together some very basic instructions on the HE website to explain how to access the EA data and then process it so as to produce visualisations to help with recording and interpretation.

Fig_1_Comparative _lidar_visualisations
Comparison between the standard jpg tile provided by the Environment Agency through Flickr (left) and a more advanced visualisation technique, based on the raw data, in this case a Simple Local Relief Model (SLRM) (right). The SLRM is the result of a procedure that separates local small-scale features from larger landscape forms, thereby enhancing features of potential archaeological interest. Tile SU1257 – LIDAR data © Geomatics Group 2008.

The other is the work I’ve done to provide access to the data from the Cannock “Chase Through Time” project, which explored the rich history of Cannock Chase area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There has been a strong volunteer aspect to the project and one of my key roles has been to create an online map, where it’s possible for users to view the results of the mapping carried out by HE against a surface model derived from the lidar data acquired for the project. Volunteers then have the possibility to download the original lidar data to carry out further analysis themselves and also to take ground photos of features of interest and add them to the map.

Fig_2_Cannock_StoryMap
A screenshot of the StoryMap web app for the “Chase Through Time” project for Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. All across the Chase, previous generations left their mark on the land – including one of the best-preserved First World War landscapes in England.

Who inspires you?

It may sound a bit corny, but people who try to make a difference; people like Bill Gates who devotes part of his admittedly massive fortune to addressing challenges not being tackled by other agencies, such as his malaria initiative.

What do you love most about your job?

The variety. One day I might be providing advice to a member of the public who thinks they may have seen something interesting on Google Earth or wants to know more about lidar; the next I’ll be working with raw lidar data, processing it to bring out subtle features of a landscape no-one has recognised before; the next I’ll be collaborating with other project members working out how to get the data from a project into GIS and shared with others.

In a single sentence, tell us what’s great about heritage science?

Heritage Science provides the data that enables us to understand what the world looked like in the past and how our ancestors interacted with it.

Fig_3_Savernake_DSM_DTM
Comparison of the Digital Surface Model (DSM) and Digital Terrain Model (DTM) derived from lidar data for part of Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. The DSM is based on the first return from the lidar pulse and represents the top of the canopy; the DTM is based on filtered data, designed to remove all “above ground” points such as vegetation. This view reveals the presence of an Iron Age enclosure together with several other features. Lidar © Forestry Commission; source: Cambridge University ULM (May 2006).

It’s British Science Week!

It’s that time of the year again! To celebrate British Science Week 2018 (9-18 March), we’ll once more be running a series of blog posts from heritage scientists across NHSF member organisations.

Over the next 10 days, activities and public events around the theme of Science & Technology will be running throughout the country, many of them free – you can find a full list here.

We have an exciting series of posts planned, to make sure that Heritage Science is represented in the festival. What is heritage science? The application of science and technology to cultural heritage, to improve our understanding and enjoyment of it. Keep an eye on this blog to find out about colours and light in Indian paintings, laser scanning the Earth, and plenty more – follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts.

 

Weston cons studio - new book binding
New book binding at Weston conservation studio. © National Trust

 

Aesthetics within Heritage: Virginia Rush’s experience at the 3rd International SEAHA Conference

The National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF) provided bursaries to enable three Early Career Researchers to attend the 3rd International Conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology. In our last blog post in this series, Virginia Rush, a doctoral student in Heritage Studies, reflects on her first encounter with heritage science at the conference.

As I was researching some new literature for my study (I am doing my PhD on Aesthetics in Heritage), I came across the SEAHA webpage and I was very pleased to find its new initiative: as a doctoral student in Heritage Studies, much of the discussion is derived from cultural studies, with no specific methods and epistemology regarding its object of study. Whereas Heritage Science, while focusing on cultural heritage, defines its ontology through the conservation practices of cultural heritage with the aim of enabling its access.

After reading about Heritage Science, I was ready to hear more: I contacted the organisers of the 3rd International SEAHA Conference and I was awarded a bursary to attend.

Virginia Rush IMG_7495

On the day of the conference, I was greeted and impeccably assisted by Mrs Pocobelli, Mrs Keats Webb and Mrs Caroline Peach from the NHSF. Hearing Dr Robert van Langh and the work done on the Rijksmuseum was a very inspiring introduction which set the mood for the day’s conference. I later attended the AICON 3D Systems/Hexagon UK breakout session on white light 3D scanning, having the opportunity to work with the projection systems and to receive specific advice on our scanning needs. Mrs Katy Lithgow’s talk was also remarkably enlightening regarding the National Trust vision and efforts. The Evening Reception, held at the Brighton Museum after a guided tour through the Pavilion, was an excellent closure to a first day full of sessions, visits and networking.

VR IMG_7506
Invited speaker Katy Lithgow (National Trust) talks about the benefits of interdisciplinary research

On the second day, the scheduled Breakout sessions proved to be relevant and innovative: I attended the Seebibyte presentation, which I found especially useful for managing Big Data and image analysis. Afterwards, Prof. May Cassar read a very inspiring presentation discussing the development of Heritage as an industry and as a production sector, engaging all the participants in a much-needed discussion regarding the values and positions of various heritage stakeholders. A last session on conservation methods and material analysis was seamlessly followed vby the closing ceremonies and remarks, which proved that through this and other endeavours, Heritage Science is not only possible but already a reality.

VR IMG_7517
Katharina Deering, from the Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine (Munich) discusses hazardous substances in museum collections

Having attended the conference helped me to learn about the state of the art in the UK, and also to understand major differences and positions within heritage conservation, as I went on to redefine my study and include a chapter on the need of a common theorisation regarding Heritage Studies and Heritage Sciences.


The 3rd International SEAHA Conference was held at the University of Brighton, UK from 19-20 June 2017. The Book of Abstracts can be found at: http://www.seaha-cdt.ac.uk/activities/events/seaha17/
SEAHA have just released photos of the conference; these can be viewed on their Flickr page.

Virginia Rush can be contacted at Virginia.Rush@b-tu.de.

Charlotte Marriott talks about the SEAHA Conference 2017

The National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF) provided bursaries to enable three Early Career Researchers to attend the 3rd International Conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology. In this post Charlotte Marriott, a conservator based in London, relates her experience of the conference. She is currently the Collections Care Officer at the Royal Air Force Museum, and is preparing objects for three new exhibitions celebrating 100 years of the RAF.

I was able to attend the 2017 SEAHA conference at the University of Brighton, thanks to an Early Career Researcher grant sponsored by the National Heritage Science Forum.

My research into the conservation of books & works of art on paper has involved multi-spectral imaging and I’m keen to continue exploring how science can work alongside practical conservation. Attending events such as the SEAHA conference help me to keep up to date with developments in heritage science, especially as I’m now working with a greater variety of materials. Having recently been appointed a conservator at the Royal Air Force Museum, attending this conference I found out about research that may help solve issues pertinent within this collection. For instance, it was great to discuss with Hayley Simon her research into iron corrosion and with Rose King her work with plastic degradation.

All the presenters of posters, flash presentations and talks were engaging and provided a fascinating insight into how science is being used to approach issues in conservation, architecture, engineering and the heritage sector from China to Poland, Glasgow to London. The key speakers; Robert van Langh, Katy Lithgow and May Cassar focused on the interdisciplinary nature of heritage science and considered the nuances of this relationship. For instance, should heritage science be considered a discipline of its own, or a holistic approach?

After a busy first day of discussions and presentations, it was off for a tour of the Royal Pavilion. Having never visited before, I was completely stunned by its opulence! Our tour guide Mary provided a great introduction to its history, thoughtfully concentrating on the recent restoration work in the Pavilion. A drinks reception at the Brighton Museum gave us all a chance to chat about the day’s session and explore more of the art collection in Brighton.

Brighton Pavillion[747]
Tour of the Brighton Royal Pavilion, ahead of a reception at the Brighton Museum. Image c/o Charlotte Marriott.
The second day of the conference began with a number of break-out sessions, which included tours of the Royal Pavilion conservation studio and of the SEAHA Mobile Heritage Lab. Delegates were also able to see some of the research methods carried out live, such as white-light scanning and infrared thermography.

I would like to express my thanks to the NHSF for the opportunity to attend the SEAHA conference – I have come away with lots of new ideas for my own research and I hope further collaboration between the RAFM museum and heritage science research can be established by welcoming the SEAHA mobile lab to the RAF museum soon!

H.Simon Research[748]
Hayley Simon is researching marine archaeological iron corrosion, by analysing cannon balls from the Mary Rose. Image c/o Hayley Simon.

The 3rd International SEAHA Conference was held at the University of Brighton, UK from 19-20 June 2017. The Book of Abstracts can be found at: http://www.seaha-cdt.ac.uk/activities/events/seaha17/