The “NASA of art”: what the super museum laboratory in Paris is like

The “NASA of art”: what the super museum laboratory in Paris is like
The “NASA of art”: what the super museum laboratory in Paris is like

Under the Tuileries Gardens, near the Louvre, is the Center for Research and Restoration of Museums of France (C2RMF), the French museum research and restoration center

In Paris, under the Tuileries Garden, there is a mysterious underground laboratory, worthy of James Bond, where works of art reveal their secrets: the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF).

Behind an armored door 17 meters underground, this center under great security measures has an area of ​​5,900 square meters. Its three levels house a technical sector, a particle accelerator called Aglae and examination rooms where art objects regularly receive a “medical checkup.”

Over there 150 specialists workamong conservators, radiologists, chemists, geologists, metallurgical engineers and archaeologists, in charge of examining nearly a thousand works of French and foreign art each year.

150 specialists and agents work here, examining around a thousand works of French and foreign art every year.

The technical and technological studies carried out at the center allow us to identify the materials with which the works were made, their origin and age, how they were assembled, as well as the alteration phenomena that are invisible to the naked eye.

Based on these highly sophisticated analyses, some works are then sent to the restoration workshops, located in a wing of the Louvre and in Versailles (southwest of Paris). The center also has an auditorium and a documentation center.

The C2RMF analyzed masterpieces such as Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vincithe stained glass windows of the Holy Chapel of Paris or the Notre Dame cathedral, a saber of Emperor Napoleon or the sculpture of Charioteer of Delphione of the most famous bronze statues of ancient Greece.

On three levels, it houses a technical platform, a particle accelerator called AGLAE and examination rooms where art objects undergo regular inspections.

The center recently received the remains of a monumental 11th-century Cambodian sculpture for a series of analyses. This work will be partially restored before an exhibition scheduled in 2025 at the Guimet Museum of Asian Arts from Paris, and then in the United States.

A masterpiece of Khmer art, discovered in 1936 at the site of Angkor, this monumental sculpture is one of the few representations of this god of Hinduism in his reclining form.

“Many fragments are missing, but originally it was about six meters long, with a diadem and a headdress,” he explains. David Bourgaritresearch engineer in archaeometallurgy, who directs the project.

X-ray analysis of an 11th century bronze statue of the famous reclining Vishnu, a work from Cambodia

The tests are carried out in a special room, with lead doors, to avoid radiation.

“In the eyebrows, those small white dots are clearly added metal, denser than copper, but we will need to perform other analyzes to determine this,” describes Bourgarit. “We are like NASA, each one with their specialty. Our crime scenes are archaeological finds. We try to understand who did them, how and why, like in a police investigation,” says Bourgarit.

The Vishnu will be carefully examined and photographed. Some areas will be “explored with other techniques such as photogrammetry, 3D scans, X-ray fluorescence, to determine the composition of a material, or spectrometry,” details the specialist. The objective is to “locate the site and manufacturing site” of the gigantic statue.

Scientists work in the laboratories of the French Museum Research and Restoration Center, located in the heart of Paris

Some fragments will perhaps be examined by the “Grand Louvre Elemental Analysis (particle) acceleratorinstalled in the late 1990s and the only one in the world that works exclusively with works of art,” explains Quentin Lemassonengineer and specialist in this equipment.

Aglae can be compared to CERN (the European laboratory for particle physics) which is located underground between France and Switzerland, although it consumes 1,000 times less energy, says Lemasson. Aglae is linear, unlike CERN, which is circular.

With the accelerator “we create particles, we accelerate them, we make them pass through a long tube and then a beam emerges that interacts with the object. From that collision different types of radiation come out, some particles bounce off and create energy. All of this allows us to determine thicknesses, detect if gold was used without having to extract samples, or determine the proportion of copper and tin in a bronze,” explains Lemasson.

Source: AFP

[Fotos: Julien De Rosa / AFP]

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