WAACNewsletter
Volume 13, Number 2, May 1991, pp.28-29

AYMHM: Articles You May Have Missed

Rosanna Zubiate, column editor
"Lifting the Veil--Technology Throws a New Light on the Renaissance," by George Armstrong, Modern Maturity, Volume 34, No. 1 (February-March 1991), pages 48-56.

This well-written overview, with good accompanying pictures, discusses conservation of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, Leonardo's "The Last Supper," and Masaccio's frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel.

"Sharp Focus on an Unwavering Gaze," by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, March 17, 1991.

"The various versions of Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin's 'Soap Bubbles' is the subject of one of the smallest yet most inventive shows of the season." The exhibit, which includes x-ray images and a print based on Chardin's paintings, was organized at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It appears that there was a larger painting, now missing, on which the extant paintings and print were based. The show is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through June 16.

"EPA Responds to ACTS Facts Article on PCBs," by Monona Rossol, ACTS FACTS, December 1990, Vol. 4, No. 12, p. 2.

In the September 1990 issue of WAAC Newsletter, AYMHM reported on an article in the August 1990 ACTS FACTS about the EPA approving the use of PCBs by art conservators. Editor Monona Rossol included a strong editorial comment in that article, condemning carelessness with the PCB-containing slide mounting medium Arochlor she has observed in conservation settings. In this follow-up article, Rossol reprints portions of a letter written to her by Tony Baney, Chief of EPA's Chemical Regulation Branch. This letter details the EPA requirements for capturing and controlling excess PCBs used in mounting microscope slides, as well as its rules about recordkeeping for disposal of PCB waste. Rossol concludes: "Any facilities using Arochlor who are not already in compliance with these regulations should get in contact with TSCA Assistance Office as soon as possible."

E.C.W.
"Intensive Care," by John Dornberg, ARTnews, January 1991, pp. 128-133.

The Dusseldorf Restoration Center, the brainchild of Heinz Althofer, was established in 1977. The Restoration Center was established under the corporate sponsorship of the Henkel company, Germany's leading manufacturer of household and industrial chemicals. Its primary mission is to serve Dusseldorf's 12 municipal art museums as a conservation and restoration laboratory, and it is located in a wing of the Kunstmuseum on the right bank of the Rhine. Althofer and the center have access to the research and development labs of the sponsor company. With the many new problems created by the use of modern materials and pigments, the center's motto remains the same: "Do only as much as is necessary and always as little as possible." Althofer states, "We must seriously consider if that which is technically possible should in every case be carried out. It is the same question that faces a physician who has the high-tech means to artificially preserve human life indefinitely. But is that still life?"

"Fingerprints in the Sand," by Richard Monastersky, Science News, December 22 and 29, 1990, pp. 392-394.

The past two decades have seen a tremendous rise in the amount of archaeological goods stolen from protected sites. Scientists have within the past three years developed soil tests to prove the provenance of stolen archaeological objects. "Soils are probably the most important weapon in our arsenal against these people right now, because it's pretty hard to dig in an archaeological site without taking soil away, too," says Martin McAllister, an archaeologist and consultant who trains investigators to handle artifact crimes. Presently, education in schools and public awareness programs are being presented in hopes of reducing casual looting and raise an outcry against commercial raiders.

"Imaging Pompeii," by Stefano Bruschini, Archaeology, March/April 1991, pp. 32-35.

A comprehensive computer system has been designed by IBM Italy to create a "knowledge model" of Pompeii and its environs. The system includes mapping of the whole archaeological area, with additional maps which show the area's archaeological, geological and hydrological resources. Catalog entries of individual finds, color images of artifacts and frescoes, records of excavation activities and census entries are all tied into the mapping grid. Specialized subsystems have been implemented within the general information database and will serve to help preserve and protect Pompeii's many frescoes. "Imaging data can be especially important in the conservation and preservation of frescoes. Photogrammetric images, if taken at constant time intervals, allow a specialist to monitor a wall surface and to detect any changes in it. Ultraviolet fluorescent images supply information about pigments used and their age, useful data in distinguishing original portions of the fresco from later restorations. Such images are incorporated into the database by using high-resolution scanners and digital processing techniques."

More War Casualties

The safety of antiquities--in museums and at archaeological and historic sites--was on the minds of many people worldwide during the recent Persian Gulf war.

In an article by William Gasperini on March 26, 1991 in The Christian Science Monitor1, a post-war description of the Kuwait National Museum was distressing:

The ... museum buildings were among the first targets of the invasion, and the Iraqis lost no time in hauling off many priceless treasures to Baghdad. What they could not take was destroyed when the troops subsequently torched the buildings, including the library.

The antiquities ranged from medieval Persian carpets to ancient Egyptian crystal chess pieces and priceless manuscripts. All have vanished, and the museum authorities are still unsure just what was stolen and what was burned....

Taking reporters on a walk through one burned-out room after another, museum guide Ahmed Al-Tattan was crushed to see that only the hinges and intricate doorknob remain from a huge 14th century wooden door from Fez, Morocco. He called it one of the museum's most important pieces.

...Mr. Al-Tattan said dejectedly, '...I had hoped and prayed they had taken it to Baghdad, but now I find the doorknob and ashes here.'

In early September, a witness in Kuwait City saw four large Iraqi army trucks parked outside the museum; others in Kuwait reported seeing soldiers carrying out cases. There is hope that a substantial portion of the collections were saved in this way, but there is also anxiety about the well-being of fragile collection materials that were transported across the desert in military vehicles, away from environmental controls2,3.

References:

1. "Kuwait Zoo, Museums Assess Iraqi Damage," by William Gasperini, The Christian Science Monitor, March 26, 1991.

2. "Iraqi Troops Plunder Kuwait Museum," by Amy Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal, September 19, 1990.

3. "Aggression in the Gulf Casts Doubt on the Fate of Kuwaiti Art," by Don Garfield, Museum News, January/February 1991.

Elizabeth C. Welsh, newsletter editor

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