In the belly of Paris, a mysterious laboratory makes works of art speak: News

In the belly of Paris, a mysterious laboratory makes works of art speak: News
In the belly of Paris, a mysterious laboratory makes works of art speak: News

Under the Tuileries garden, near the Louvre, where tourists stroll, a mysterious laboratory, worthy of James Bond, makes works of art speak: it is the C2RMF, the research and restoration center of the museums of France, that AFP was able to visit.

Behind an armored door 17 m underground, the highly secure center extends over 5,900 m2. It accommodates on three levels a technical platform, a particle accelerator called Aglaé, examination rooms where the art objects regularly undergo a medical check-up (imaging and analyses).

Conservators, radiologists, chemists, geologists, metallurgical engineers, archaeologists…: 150 specialists and agents work there, examining a thousand French and foreign works of art each year.

Their technical and technological study makes it possible to characterize the materials that constitute them, their origin and age, as well as the modes of assembly and creation, and the phenomena of alteration, invisible to the naked eye.

Certain works are then taken to the restoration workshops, installed in a wing of the Louvre as well as in Versailles, which propose, in view of the analyses, the protocols most adapted to their condition.

An auditorium and a documentation center complete the ensemble.

– Cambodian Vishnu –

After the Mona Lisa, the stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle or those of Notre-Dame, a saber of Napoleon or the Charioteer of Delphi, these are the precious remains of a monumental Cambodian sculpture from the 11th century which have just been entrusted to him for a series of analyses. It will then be partially restored before an exhibition planned for 2025 at the Guimet Museum of Asian Arts and then in the United States.

A masterpiece of Khmer art discovered in 1936 on the site of Angkor, this monumental sculpture of “Vishnu of Western Mebon” is among the rare representations of this god of Hinduism, in his reclining form.

If “many fragments are missing, originally it extended over a length of around six meters, had a tiara and a bun cover”, explains David Bourgarit, archaeo-metallurgical research engineer who is leading the project.

“In this last shot of the left shoulder, we can see a very significant wall thickness and very interesting things in terms of the assembly and filling of the arm,” adds Elsa Lambert, radiologist responsible for studying the sculpture with a ten other specialists, in an examination room equipped with leaded doors to avoid radiation.

– “police investigation” –

“In the eyebrows, these small white dots are very clearly added metal, denser than copper, but we will have to resort to other analyzes to determine this,” adds Mr. Bourgarit.

“We’re a bit like NASA, each with our own skills, or CSI: Miami, the scientific police. Our crime scenes are archaeological finds, a set of works for which we try to understand who made them, how and why, like a police investigation,” he adds.

The Vishnu will benefit from “complete photographic coverage”. Certain areas will then be “explored in detail using other techniques such as photogrammetry, 3D scans, X-ray fluorescence which provides the composition of a material, or spectrometry,” explains the specialist.

He scrutinizes the “core” of Vishnu, “a part containing the clay used to melt the statue” into bronze, the analysis of which will make it possible to “locate the deposit and the manufacturing site”.

– Particle accelerator –

Some fragments will perhaps pass through the spectacular “Aglae or Grand Louvre (particle) accelerator for elementary analysis, installed at the end of the 1990s and the only one in the world to only work on works of art”, explains Quentin Lemasson, design engineer specializing in this machine.

“Linear, unlike that of Cern (European laboratory for particle physics) which is circular, it is also 1,000 times less energetic,” he says.

Made up of two parts, it is located in a room filled with metal structures and pipes of all kinds, from which a powerful roar arises.

“We create particles, we accelerate them, they pass through a long pipe and a beam comes out into the air interacting with the object. Different types of radiation are emitted, certain particles bounce back, create energy, we can thus determine the thickness or detect gilding without sampling, determine the proportion of copper and tin in a bronze”, says the engineer.

Under the effect of protons and alpha particles, a ceramic reveals the chemical composition of the materials and trace elements sign their origin.

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