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Light relief: could new lighting technology avert the need for restoration?

2 min read
Light relief: could new lighting technology avert the need for restoration?

Lighting affects our perception of a work of art.

Just ask Robert van Langh, the head of conservation and science at the Rijksmuseum, where the Netherlands’s most famous painting, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, is undergoing the most ambitious -conservation effort in its 378-year history. A chance observation made when the 1642 painting was temporarily relocated to a side gallery alerted the museum staff to details that had been previously thought lost, such as the architectural background. “There were only slight differences between the lighting in the temporary gallery and the painting’s usual situation,” explains Van Langh, “but when I looked at it with Pieter Roelofs, our head of paintings and sculpture, we both said, ‘Look at this!’ We’ve seen more things than we’ve ever seen before in The Night Watch, so that is something we are keen to optimise.” Changes in technology over the past decade have transformed art lighting from a presentational aid to a tune-able precision tool that can function as a non-invasive means of limiting the need for traditional restoration techniques. The steady replacement of traditional halogen lamps with energy—efficient LEDs has resulted in significant savings for museums and galleries, while reduced heat emissions and little to no ultraviolet or infrared radiation have lowered (though not eliminated) the risks posed to works of art from light sources, thereby granting greater freedom to conservators and curators. […]

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