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Fields & Applications Materials, Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry

Lacquer of Interest

I work within an interdisciplinary project called Profound study of Hydrous and Solvent Interactions in Cleaning Asian Lacquer (PHySICAL). We use state-of-the art analytical techniques to develop safe and effective cleaning methods for cultural artifacts coated with Asian lacquer. Asian lacquer, made from the sap of trees in the sumac or cashew family (Anacardiaceae), is a highly durable coating, used on all sorts of objects, weapons, armor and even architecture. When exposed to light, degradation products start to appear in the lacquer, making the surface highly water-sensitive. Cleaning the degraded lacquer with solvents can cause swelling when the cleaning agent is absorbed into the lacquer layer during cleaning. Leaching of organic compounds from the polymer matrix can also occur – a complex problem with unpredictable long-term effects.

I’m responsible for the chemical side of the research at the Belgian Royal Institute of Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), the Separation Science Group at Ghent University and Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage Program at University of Amsterdam. The other partner in the project is the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH) in Brussels. Asian lacquer and polychrome sculpture conservator Delphine Mesmaeker is in charge of the RMAH research – studying their lacquer collection, improving preventive conservation conditions and investigating the visible changes to the lacquer surfaces through cleaning.

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About the Author

Jonas Veenhoven

Researcher, Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, Brussels, Ghent University, Belgium and University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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