The Infill: 12 March 2015

We’re back for a third time to fill you in on a fortnight’s worth of news and images from around the conservation world…

It’s true what they say about cats and the internet

We’ve been posting prolifically on our Facebook page over the last two weeks, and there have been some real crackers. Perhaps we caught your interest with the revelation that the Vatican has received a ransom demand for a stolen Michelangelo letter. Maybe we piqued your curiosity with the tale of the deadly dangers of mapmaking in the 16th century. It’s also conceivable that gorgeous infrared images of spring were simply too tempting for you to ignore. But which, you may wonder, was our single most successful Facebook post over the last two weeks? Which, in fact, has been our second most popular post of all time?* What subject was so tantalising that it drew record numbers of you to click on that link? Cats. That’s right, cats. To be precise, cats urinating on historic manuscripts. Now, we certainly can’t attribute this phenomenon to a slow news week. We can only concede that, even when it comes to conservation, people on the internet love cats.
*Our most popular post to date has been the Magna Carta discovery. There’s hope for us yet!

The Science Corner

But enough with furry rogues, we’ve got an entire beaker’s worth of science news to report, beginning with a free (free!) article in the International Journal of Conservation Science on Quantitative Multispectral Imaging for the Detection of Parchment Ageing Caused by Light: A Comparison with ATR-FTIR, GC-MS and TGA Analyses. Phew – say that three times quickly whilst spinning anti-clockwise! A bit easier to digest is a concise explanation as to why Van Gogh’s reds are turning white. If you’ve been looking for alternatives to the Oddy Test, then look no further: the Library of Congress has got you sorted. But if it’s animal cruelty-free alternatives to animal skin you’re after, it looks like the environmentally friendly mass production of tissue-engineered leather is not far from reality. Looking for an update on a story that first appeared in 2012, and thinking naturally of our own profession, our investigative journalists at The Gathering recently contacted the company in question and received the following response: ‘Thank you for reaching out to us and for your interest in our work. In the long-term, we expect to develop leather that has a range of advantages in terms of stability, flexibility, and other properties. However, we are still in research & development mode, so our leather products are prototypes right now. We are exploring the possibilities of cultured leather. It will be some years before our leather is available commercially, but at that point we will be able to provide much more detailed information, and will better be able to assess the applicability of cultured leather to conservation.’  So things are still obviously very much under wraps, but we’ll look out for further developments. We can’t exit the Science Corner without first sharing the breakthrough image that simultaneously displays light as both a wave and a particle, nor without giving another plug for the infrared images of spring. Really, they’re so beautiful they’re worth a few seconds of your time. Despite the absence of cats in them.

The madness continues

It is with sadness that we reflect on the continued destruction of cultural heritage around the world, whether it be Libya, Mali or, in Iraq alone, Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul, where the destruction of ancient statuary has been the subject of a widely published video. But we also celebrate the efforts of our fellow conservators, from the “Monuments Men” Risking Everything to Save Syria’s Ancient Treasures From ISIS, to mosaic preservation in Syria and elsewhere, to the creation of a database of endangered archaeological sites in North Africa and the Middle East.

But conservation does too

First, we’ve got two ‘thanks to conservation’ revelations to report: the discovery of two hidden Cézanne sketches and the re-identification of a 16th-century Medici portrait. Next, we pass on the exciting news that the British Library have digitised and made available online over 4 million archive images from 78 countries as part of its Endangered Archives Programme. (For those of you wondering, ‘How much does digitisation cost?’, you can find one perspective here.) Finally, whilst updates on the King Tutankhamun beard debacle have been seemingly non-existent, we have learned that the Egyptian Museum are to begin documenting all conservation activity… which suggests that conservation wasn’t previously being documented, but we’ll just hope that wasn’t actually the case.

Your video treat of the week:

is the aforementioned Alternatives to the Oddy Test. It’s a long one, clocking in at 73 minutes, so grab some popcorn, snuggle up on the sofa and get stuck in. (A transcript is available for those of you who have something better to do with your Thursday night!)

The final word…

… goes to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, for marking the 25th anniversary of the theft of 13 artworks, amongst them ones by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet, from its collection. Crimes like these are heartbreaking for art lovers, but kudos to the museum for keeping the memory of these works alive. Here’s hoping that they will still be recovered.

Have any comments on any of the items above? Leave your feedback below, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for your daily Infill.

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