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PANORAMA: 1996

London Museum Leads Research Revolution
by Albert Evans
Photography by Anna Purkiss

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, now has one the most sophisticated centres for the research and conservation of the decorative arts in Europe.

The recently opened workshops and offices offer facilities that will revolutionise working practices at the museum, enabling conservators, photographers, researchers and scientists - previously deployed throughout the Victoria and Albert's 11-acre site - to work together while they study world-famous collections.

Shown in the photo are Richard Cook, Head of Sculpture Conservation, and Merete Winness, a woodwork conservation MA student, from Drammen in Norway, working on a new database which, by using a video microscope, collects highly magnified images of end grains of wood.

The leading-edge technology devised by them is likely to interest art historians and conservators around the world who would welcome the facility for identifying and cataloguing wooden objects in their own collections.

Although still at an early stage of development, the system enables researchers to identify types of wood without damaging the object under examination. The standard practice in the past has been to take small (potentially damaging) samples from the different woods in an object and mount them on slides for examination under a microscope with transmitted light.

The fibre-optic video microscope is a video camera with a lens that can magnify up to 400 times actual size. The resulting image can be retained, either as a print on a video printer, or electronically on the hard disk of a special database (AQUITAS) developed by a British company, DDL.

The system permits examinations to be less intrusive and be carried out on even relatively inaccessible parts of objects. The resulting images can then be printed for individual study, be manipulated or enlarged to show more detail. This simple method of identifying types of wood in a single object could help historians date the object or identify the region from where it came.

For information contact:
Victoria and Albert Museum
South Kensington, London
United Kingdom, SW7 2RL
Tel: +44 171 938 8586
Fax: +44 171 938 8661

  

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