Robert van Langh gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 at 12 pm. His talk was entitled “Netherlands Institute for Conservation Art and Science: An Integrated Approach Towards Understanding and Preserving Cultural Heritage.”

In this talk, van Langh discussed the role of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation Art and Science, the principle aim of which is to find, develop, and implement better methods to extract and interpret the material knowledge that is available to us in a work of art. This transformative work can only be achieved with a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together the fields of conservation, [art] history, and the exact sciences. Chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and data scientists are working with experts to better understand and characterize the degradation phenomena we can now merely observe. Modeling and visualization technologies provide exciting opportunities to document these processes, allowing us to not only track an artwork’s condition back in time, but into the future as well. The artworks themselves contain the answers we need to help them.

Take Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, for example. Is the painting as we experience it today the same as the day it was created? What we see now can be dramatically divergent from what the artist intended and how their work was observed in the past. Fading pigments, delaminating varnishes, sick glass—our national treasures are continuously changing, even disappearing, as we stand by. Only with the joint formulation of challenging research questions by professors, curators, conservators, and conservation scientist and the development of better and more versatile analytical techniques can we truly endeavor to understand, present, and preserve our invaluable artworks.

Robert van Langh has been head of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam since 2006. Beginning as a gold- and silversmith, van Langh was subsequently trained as a conservator at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Antwerp. After working at the Museum of the Tropics, he became a metals conservator at the Rijksmuseum in 1995. During this time he developed the metals conservation training program now being taught at the University of Amsterdam. In 2012 he received his PhD from Delft University of Technology, where he studied Materials Science and Art History and wrote his dissertation on “Technical Studies of Renaissance Bronzes.” In 2015 van Langh became chair of NICAS (Netherlands Institute of Conservation Art and Science), a new innovative multidisciplinary research center housed in the Rijksmuseum Conservation building, uniting art history, conservation, and science