PAinT - Paint Alterations in Time

Previous research

A brief history of paint studies in The Netherlands

The PAinT research project is part of the Science4Arts program funded by NWO. It is the follow-up in a research history that goes back to 1995.

MOLART and De Mayerne  

MOLART (1995-2002) was the first interdisciplinary research programme financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) where conservators, art historians and scientists worked together to investigate the 'molecular aspects of ageing in painted works of art'. The research was continued in the De Mayerne Programme (2002-2006). Both programs were hosted at the FOM Institute AMOLF in Amsterdam, and coordinated by Prof. dr. Jaap J. Boon. The research gave a large impetus to the understanding of paint ageing mechanisms and development of new analytical methods for painting studies. In this period, twelve PhD theses, known as the MOLART series, were produced and over 200 articles were published in scientific and conservation journals and conference proceedings. Many deterioration processes are now understood: the discolouration of smalt, the blackening of vermilion, the saponification of lead and zinc white, lead-tin yellow and red lead, the whitening of bone black, the darkening of verdigris and Emerald green, and the fading of indigo.

Lead soap aggregates

As part of the Open Lab collaboration between Amolf and the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, the white translucent globules in the paint of the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp were investigated and characterised as lead soaps (carboxylates). Add figure. This was the beginning of a new direction of paint ageing studies. Since then, lead soap aggregates have been found in thousands of paintings, from the 15th till the 20th century, on panel and on canvas, lined and unlined, as was shown by the protrusion questionnaire set up by Petria Noble (Mauritshuis). Also, many other degradation phenomena turned out to be related to the formation of metal soaps: efflorescence, increased transparency and darkening. Add figure. In 2006, ten years after the research on the Tulp painting had started, the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) organised a special session dedicated to the occurrence of metal soaps in paintings during their Annual Meeting, and recognised their impact. Nowadays the formation of metal soaps, not only lead-based, but also zinc, potassium, copper soaps, in oil paintings is fully accepted in the conservation field. 


In April 2012 NWO started a new interdisciplinary programme in art-technological and scientific research as applied to the conservation of art objects: the Science4Arts programme. The programme will run until April 2017 and hosts six projects, of which one is the PainT – Paint Alterations in Time Project.



26 November 2012