IMPACT4ART: the interplay between scientists, art historians, conservators and the general public

The wooden sculpture shown in the green oval is surrounded by mystery: How old is this wooden sculpture? Where and by whom was it made? Mathematics and computer science can help to answer such questions.

Publication date: 20-05-2021

The wooden sculpture shown in the green oval (Fig.1) is surrounded by mystery: How old is this wooden sculpture? Where and by whom was it made? These are typical questions asked by conservators of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam about objects in their collection.

In the Impact4Art project [1], we try  to answer these questions using CT scanning and imaging science in a collaboration between the Rijksmuseum and CWI, the Center for Mathematics and Computer Science of the Netherlands, both located in Amsterdam. The investigation of internal features of art objects by CT scanning, is facilitated by the CT scanner of the state-of-the-art FleX Ray lab located at CWI [2]. It often starts with a question about a certain object in the collection (Fig.1, green oval). As a mathematician and researcher of the Impact4Art project, I am concerned with developing methods and algorithms for the CT scanning of cultural heritage.

Similar to medical imaging, where a crack in a human bone can be revealed by an X-ray, we use X-rays to peek into the interior of art objects. In the case of the sculpture, X-ray imaging reveals the tree rings as is shown in the red oval by a radiograph and a slice from the CT reconstruction (Fig. 1). These tree rings can be used to answer questions such as the date of manufacturing and the place of origin [3].

 

Figure 1: Poster accompanying Francien Bossema's presentation at PCST, titled 'Science communication in an interdisciplinary research project: the interplay between scientists, art historians, conservators and the general public'.

Impact4Art

The Impact4Art project aims to develop new techniques and algorithms tailored to the specific requirements for CT scanning art objects. Researchers from different backgrounds have joined forces to make this happen: art historians, conservators and imaging scientists.

The research goals are therefore two-fold:

  1. Methodological: developing new techniques and algorithms.
  2. Object based: using the images to answer art historical questions or to determine the current conservation state of the object.

In an interdisciplinary project like this, clear communication is a challenge given the different backgrounds, jargon and different interests of the researchers involved. To maximize the knowledge gain for both research aims, close collaboration between experts is essential. CT scans are therefore always performed with both the object expert and imaging expert present and the input from the object expert is leading in guiding the scanning process [4].  In this process, it is important to discuss details and explain respective research methods and goals to each other. Each has their own specific specialization and being open and curious about each other’s topics is key. The object based questions are an inspiration for imaging scientists to develop new techniques tailored to the specific requirements to answer these questions. The other way around, the CT scanner often reveals features that give the object experts an unexpected insight and trigger new research. In this way, the intensive collaboration benefits all.

A third involved group, although not directly participating in the research process, is the museum public. Art objects are made for aesthetic purposes and often have an interesting background story. These stories and the aesthetic objects appeal to a wide public. Currently, visualisations (such as shown in Fig. 1 for the sculpture in the blue oval), blogposts [5,6], TV broadcasts [7,8] and articles [9,10,11] are used to communicate the research findings to a broad audience. In the future, the researchers aim to integrate research and background stories in an exhibition, making technical research more tangible by using the attraction of art.

Francien Bossema at the PCST2020+1 conference

The communication between researchers with different backgrounds and the dissemination of research results to a wide public is becoming increasingly important and valued in the academic world. Francien Bossema, researcher in the Impact4Art project, recently gave a short presentation on the communication within this interdisciplinary project and the outreach activities of the project at the conference PCST2020+1 (Public Communciation of Science and Technology) [12]. This blog is an adapted version of this presentation, along with the accompanying poster. For more information regarding the research on the sculpture, please see the recently published article by Marta Domínguez-Delmás [3].

More information

[1] https://www.nicas-research.nl/projects/impact4art/

[2] https://www.cwi.nl/news/2017/centrum-wiskunde-informatica-launches-world-class-3d-lab

[3] M. Domínguez-Delmás, F.G. Bossema, B. Van der Mark, A. Kostenko, S.B. Coban, S. Van Daalen, P. Van Duin, K.J. Batenburg, “Dating and provenancing the Woman with lantern sculpture – A contribution towards attribution of Netherlandish art”, Journal of Cultural Heritage (2021, accepted), https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1296207421000558

[4] F.G. Bossema, S.B. Coban, A. Kostenko, P. van Duin, J. Dorscheid, I. Garachon, E. Hermens, R. van Liere, K.J. Batenburg, Integrating expert feedback on the spot in a time-efficient explorative CT scanning workflow for cultural heritage objects, Journal of Cultural Heritage (2021)

[5] https://www.cwi.nl/news/blogs/insight-in-wood-dating-wooden-objects-with-3d-ct-imaging

[6] https://www.cwi.nl/news/blogs/quest-for-the-hugo-de-groot-book-chest

[7] https://www.avrotros.nl/historisch-bewijs/gemist/detail/historisch-bewijs-de-boekenkist-van-hugo-de-groot-04-03-2020/

[8] https://www.avrotros.nl/historisch-bewijs/gemist/detail/historisch-bewijs-extra-04-03-2020/

[9] https://issuu.com/vmadmin/docs/cwi_special_75_years, p12-15

[10] https://www.volkskrant.nl/wetenschap/nederlanders-kraken-per-ongeluk-geheimen-chinese-puzzelballen~bd58dadc/

[11] https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2020/10/14/met-stokoude-chinese-ballen-werd-geen-polo-gespeeld-a401594

[12] https://conference.pcst.co/program/abstract/1121

[13] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1296207421000662