Our cultural heritage is constantly changing. What we see today can vastly differ from what people saw in the past, and from what people will see in the future. Inside objects, processes invisible to the naked eye are taking place that have a direct effect on their appearance. Often, we are powerless to stop these processes.
We are aware that something is happening, yet we still do no understand exactly what is happening. All the while, the object itself constitutes a veritable treasure trove of information; about the manufacturing process of the object, and therefore about the original intentions and techniques of the artist, but also about the ways in which the object has changed over time and how it will change in the future. Up to now, we have only partly succeeded in extracting these pieces of invaluable information from the object; the cultural heritage field is in need of a game changer.
It is imperative that we increase our fundamental knowledge in this field; of materials and their ageing and degradation processes, and of the historic and aesthetic aspects of artworks. For this purpose an multidisciplinary approach is necessary, in which the pertinent disciplines – conservation, art history, and science – work together in an integrated manner. This collaboration will ensure the solid basis that is necessary for the development of improved conservation strategies, optimal preservation environments and a more complete understanding of cultural heritage objects and their history.
With this in mind the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS) was initiated, with the division for Physical Sciences of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Rijksmuseum (RM), the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), the Faculties of Humanities and Science of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) as lead partners. It is a new multidisciplinary research institute, centered in the Ateliergebouw in Amsterdam, uniting the disciplines conservation, art history and science. It is the aim of NICAS to consolidate and develop the connections between these disciplines in the form of a cohesive research program in close cooperation with and active involvement of the cultural heritage field, with as its main research themes the origin of the artwork and the life of the artwork through time. Problems encountered in museum collections in the whole of the Netherlands will be used as input for research at NICAS, and the activities of NICAS should have relevance and impact for those collections, the ultimate goal being a better understanding, presentation and conservation of cultural heritage.