How gels found their way into art conservation

Lecture by Ehab Al-Emam (Sohag University - Visiting Research Scholar)
25th April, 2024 - 7pm
Stadscampus Mutsaard, s.Mu.A2.03 - Ambtmanstraat 1, 2nd floor

In the late 1980s, the University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation introduced the usage of gels for cleaning the surfaces of artworks. Since then, conservation scientists have developed several types of gels that can meet the desires of conservator-restorers. In general, gels are used as a carrier of the desired cleaning systems to deliver them to the surface to be treated.

Artworks are susceptible to degradation over time in the form of accumulations of dirt and deposits on their surfaces, in addition to other degraded layers (such as varnishes). The presence of such undesired layers may induce unwanted physiochemical alterations by triggering mechanisms of degradation. This is normally accompanied by changes in the aesthetic appearance of the surface of the artwork. Therefore, the removal of these layers is one of the main duties of conservator-restorers. Since cleaning artworks may cause undesirable physicochemical alterations and is a nonreversible procedure, the proper cleaning treatment should be adopted. Ideally, such a procedure is expected to remove undesired materials while preserving the original surface. In some cases, traditional cleaning methods are damaging to fragile surfaces; thus, the disadvantages associated with them paved the way for considering other materials to overcome these issues. 

About Ehab Al-Emam

Ehab Al-Emam graduated from the Department of Conservation – Sohag University in Egypt (in 2006) where he held a position as an assistant lecturer. In 2013, he obtained his master’s degree from the same department. Soon after, he was awarded a scholarship from the Egyptian government that allowed him to pursue his specialization in wall painting conservation at the University of Antwerp. There, he joined and worked at the AXIS research group from the Faculty of Science and the ARCHES research group from the Faculty of Design Sciences. Later in 2021, he was awarded his PhD degree from the University of Antwerp. His PhD thesis dealt with using gels for the cleaning of wall paintings. During his PhD research, he had the opportunity to clean several artwork surfaces with different types of gels. Ehab now holds the position of an academic staff member at the Department of Conservation – Faculty of Archaeology – Sohag University.