The National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) was established to support academic mobility, expand the horizons of Polish science, and elevate its international reputation.

One of the NAWA programs targeted toward academics is “Polish Returns.” Its purpose is to encourage outstanding Polish scientists to return to the country by facilitating conditions for their further growth and development in Poland. The program provides funds intended for the salary of the researcher as well as for the establishment of a research group with international experience.

At the Cultural Heritage Research Group, the NAWA program has supported building a team of scientists who will engage in the CRACQUELURE project – “A comprehensive mechanical model for historic, aged layers of paint,” also funded by the National Agency for Academic Exchange.

da Fabriano's painting
Craquelure pattern on ‘Madonna and Child Enthroned’ by Gentile da Fabriano

The project is of great importance to society and very innovative as to the employed methodology by merging state-of-the-art tools and instruments of sciences with questions and specific needs of the humanities represented by history of art and conservation. The research methodology is very innovative for the heritage science as analysis of the susceptibility of objects to damage has never considered cracked paint layers. As demonstrated by the preliminary research of dr Bratasz at Yale University, cracked paintings are significantly less vulnerable to microclimatic variations due to the crack saturation mechanism. Merging modelling of complex material structures of varying moisture related and mechanical properties developed in the Krakow research group with fracture saturation mechanism would be a break-through in research on global scale. It will lead to more effective authentication of paintings, understanding the accumulation of physical damage in works of art and development of optimum methods of preventive conservation.

In particular, the project aims at decisively contributing to the development of environmental specifications for paintings which are the most precious and vulnerable heritage asset in museums and historical buildings worldwide. In spite of considerable advances in understanding the physical response of artistic materials to changing environmental conditions, limited information on material properties of original historical materials and lack of information on the effect of damage accumulated in paintings in the past on their susceptibility to environment instability have been perceived as major deficiencies of the research carried out so far. The deficiencies are raised as main arguments against relaxing climate control in museums which would make possible movement to the idea of ‘a green museum’ – an institution combining care of the treasures from the past with the environment protection, especially through reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. The project will address the existing gaps in heritage science providing a key step forward in the discussion on the environmental specifications in museums.