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Tuesday, May 17 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Architecture) And now what? : Technical and ethical decision-making process regarding a Parisian 17th-century painted ceiling in the aftermath of a catastrophic fire

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A few years ago, a dramatic event occurred in a listed 17th-century Parisian “hôtel particulier”, a grand mansion townhouse, well-known for the quality and authenticity of its sculpted and painted internal decoration. While the building was undergoing extensive renovation work, a fire started in the attic during the night.  This paper focuses on the ethical and technical decision-making process in the aftermath of the fire for a few, very significant, 17th-century painted ceilings. These ceilings, painted in oil on plaster, were severely affected by the fire, the smoke and the water used to put it out. This led to the almost complete collapse of one of the ceilings, while the others were affected but remained in place. Immediately, a collaborative mechanism was put in place between all the stakeholders for discussing the technical and ethical issues regarding the collapse ceiling as they arise. These included the building owner, the architect, the conservators, as well as curators working for the French Ministry of Culture. The conservation team, which had just spent the previous year working on these ceilings, was immediately at hand and intervened within hours. The Laboratoire de recherche des monuments historiques (LRMH), the state conservation science laboratory for historical monuments, was asked to provide scientific and technical support to the conservators. The collapsed painted ceiling was a gigantic puzzle, with some irremediably lost pieces, but the knowledge of the conservators who had just finished its conservation as well as excellent documentation existed. The fire high temperatures had changed some of the original colors and had also an effect on the conservation materials which had just been applied to the painting. Emergency actions were immediately taken: collection of the fragments, installation of a wooden structure to support the soaked part of the ceiling still in place, removal of the wood and canvas wall panels, removal of liquid water, monitoring of the relative humidity and of the potential microorganism development, etc. Once all emergency measures had been taken, selected samples were taken for material characterization and the alterations observed in laboratory. Different replicate samples reproducing the painting layers were made and subjected to high temperatures to better understand the alteration mechanisms. Cleaning tests were carried out by the conservators and evaluated in the laboratory to establish treatments protocols. Once this technical research carried out, the key issue of the future of this painted ceiling, now in fragments, needed to be tackled, and a decision to be reached by the owner advised by the architect. Technically, the painted vault could be reassembled, albeit with lacunae, but should it be replaced in situ? in a museum ? And how the lacunae should be treated? Should the painted fragments be left in a museum drawer? In that case, how the new ceiling should be treated?

avatar for Dominique Martos-Levif

Dominique Martos-Levif

Engineer, conservator scientist, Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historique
Dominique Martos-Levif works like engineer in the mural painting and polychromy department in the Laboratoire des monuments historiques. After studies on history of art at university and Louvre schoolar, she obtained a master’s degree in conservation-restauration on cultural heritage in Panthéon Sorbonne university. She work few years like wall painting conservator, obtained a new Master's degree in research in cultural heritage and... Read More →


Elsa Bourguignon

Conservation scientist, Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques
Elsa Bourguignon trained both as an architectural conservator and a conservation scientist. She received an M.Sc. in Historic Preservation with a concentration in building and material conservation from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Materials Science from the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees, France. She has worked both in the field, notably as an associate project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute, and in the... Read More →

Isabelle Pallot-Frossard

Director, C2rmf (centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France)
Isabelle Pallot‐Frossard, C2rmf. General Heritage curator, Director of the C2rmf. Art historian, head curator of cultural heritage. From 1980 to 1991 she was inspector of historical monuments in charge of the regions of Picardie, Champagne‐Ardenne and Lorraine. From 2003 to 2011 she has been a member of ICCROM Council and vice‐president of the Council from 2005 to 2009. Since 2011 she has been President of the International Scientific... Read More →

Rebecca Rivry

engineer, consulting firm ECMH
Rebecca Rivry is physico-chemical engineer, she completed her master degree in alteration of materials on cultural heritage at the University Paris Est in 2013. She worked as research officer, at the LRMH, on the alteration of wall paintings. She currently works in the consulting firm ECMH, specialized in the diagnosis of alteration of matérials on cultural heritage.

Vincent Detalle

Research Engineer, Ministère de la culture et de la communication. laboratoire de recherche des monuments historiques
Vincent Detalle, LRMH. PhD in Physics. MCC Research Engineer. Head of the mural paintings and Patrimex department of LRMH, in charge of research coordination of LRMH. Physico‐chemist, specialist in laser spectroscopy, he is working on the study of the conservation of mural painting material. Head of a group of 6 engineers and technicians, he is in charge of the development of portable equipment for non‐invasive analysis of sites with a mobile... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 10:30am - 11:00am
Room 515

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