Wood characterization of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga art collection – implications for conservation and restoration.
Coordinator - Cristina Nabais
Programme - POCI/HEC/58684/2004
Execution dates - 2005-09-01 - 2007-09-01 (24 Months)
Funding Entity - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Total Funding - 58 300 €
Proponent Institution -
Participating Institutions
Departamento de Botânica, FCTUC

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Instituto Português de Museus (IPM)
The cultural heritage of the Mediterranean area represents an extraordinary richness recognised worldwide, which animates a strong need of safeguard and valorisation. The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, in Lisbon, owns a very important collection of painting and sculpture. Throughout the museum’s collection, the use of wood as the raw material for different types of art pieces, from renaissance paintings, to sculpture and furniture, is a constant. However, despite the importance of knowing the wood species of the artworks, the museum possesses this information only for a very small fraction of its collection.
The knowledge of the type and density of wood of an art piece provides important information from the historical (e.g. supposing the wood geographic provenance and the choice of the material operated by a single painter) and conservation point of view. The conservation and restoration of art pieces must be suited to their specific characteristics and needs. The characterization of the wood of an artwork is therefore a most important component for its comprehension and preservation.
Wood scientific studies have been very useful in archaeological research and art history. A vast array of scientific methods is available for the characterization of wood properties and the recent development of new equipments considerably boosts the reliability and effectiveness of such a task. Bearing in mind the unique historical value of art pieces, methods should also be minimally intrusive.
We will first focus on the identification of the wood species of the art pieces. Reliable wood identification requires the ability to recognize basic differences in cellular structure and wood anatomy. The identification of wooden species is performed both with macroscopic and microscopic observations.
Secondly, we will extract DNA from ancient wood. this method, besides aiding in the identification of the species, can also give information about the geographic origin of the wood.