Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on a Wooden Door and Sea Shells Decoration at the Immaculate Conception Parish, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Students from the University of Melbourne Saiful Bakhri, Sophie Russell and Mark Barnes, and conservator Dr Nicole Tse with Anna Carlos and Jim Vasquez from the National Museum of the Philippines, conducted Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on cultural heritage at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

RTI and its versatility

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) developed by Cultural Heritage Imaging is a computational photographic method that records an cultural objects’ surface shape and colour, allowing the interactive re-lighting the objects from any direction. Today’s RTI software can be downloaded from Cultural Heritage Imaging

RTI is a very useful technology for recording objects in high detail. The light from the camera flashing at different angles reveals lines, holes, brush strokes and other details that may not be visible with normal photography. RTI images can make objects look ‘3D’ without the need for 3D modelling software.

Recording cultural objects, paintings and buildings is an important part of maintaining our cultural heritage. This might include writing condition reports, taking photographs or keeping lists. RTI scanning is another way we can record important cultural heritage with high detail. This means we have a digital record of the object that we can safely archive for future use. If the cultural heritage becomes damaged or destroyed, we can use the RTI scan to recreate, rebuild or reconstruct as close as possible to the original. It may even be possible to 3D print smaller objects. RTI scans can also reveal details in craftsmanship, patterns or damage that we cannot see with our eyes alone. Lastly, RTI images are a great way to engage people with cultural heritage, especially if they cannot visit the heritage in person.

Capturing the Wooden Door

The Immaculate Conception Parish in Guiuan, Eastern Samar has several large, carved wooden doors. Unfortunately, flood water caused damage to some of these doors during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Wooden objects like these are also vulnerable to pests such as termites and mould. In 2018 the National Museum and the Parish decided to create a fibreglass cast of one half of a set of doors from the south western entrance of the church, which local wood carvers Alfredo Menosa and Eric can later use to carve a new door. The door has intricate carvings showing plants, flowers, angels and fish. It was decided to RTI scan the door because as it is made of wood, it sits facing the outside of the church and it is immovable during a natural disaster it is particularly vulnerable to damage.

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Stuffed with Problems: The Challenges of Dealing with a Taxidermy Object

by Sophie Philips 

Cultural materials present conservators with a range of challenges. Issues of degradation, material instability, the choice of best treatment method, or maybe no treatment at all; all these issues are part of the thought and decision-making process that goes into working with cultural material. Some materials present a danger to the health and well-being, which brings up a whole host of challenges. Taxidermy is one of those risky items!

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Louise Lateau en Extase

By Alexandra Taylor


Part One: Investigating Louise Lateau en Extase

The Ecstatic Visions and Bleeding Skin of a Belgian Hysterical Woman

From the get-go this painting demanded rigorous, round-the-clock TLC. Equally as fascinating as the treatment was the narrative behind the work. Louise Lateau en Extase by Franz (François) Sodar is the relic of an age where Victorian science clashed vociferously with spirituality. Lateau’s character came to symbolise “the marvellous”, exciting the sympathy of bystanders and igniting current debate around the laws of nature and religion.

According to the British Medical Journal (1871, p. 479) Lateau was ‘subject to much hardship in early life’, raised on a ‘plus que frugal’ diet with little to no education. Lateau was forced into taking charge of a crippled old woman from the tender age of eight and, during the 1866 cholera epidemic, spent her time nursing and burying its victims. Devout Lateau then, having impressed divine favour, supernaturally began to receive the stigmatic marks corresponding to those left on Christ’s body by the Crucifixion. The prominent Belgian physician Dr. Lefebvre, Professor of General Pathology and Therapeutics at the University of Louvain, refined all aspects of the phenomenon that befell Lateau in his investigative study Life of Louise Lateau; her life, her ecstasies and her stigmata.

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The Sky is the Limit…ation

by Madeleine Ewing

Part I: First Impressions Last

Welcome to the online conservation treatment diary for the portrait Untitled (Woman and Child). The aim of this blog is to provide an accessible platform through which each stage of the conservation process may be documented and reflected upon. Content will include pre-treatment, during-treatment and post-treatment updates in order to capture real-time problem solving and progress.

So, let’s get started!

Very little is known about the history of Untitled (Woman and Child). It’s currently part of the private teaching collection at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and was acquired as an academic donation. The painting has been treated by student conservators at least twice before myself and its condition is fair overall. Other than the losses along three separate tear repairs, the paint layer is stable and the strainer is structurally sound.

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The glass spouted vessel: What is it?

by Karen Thompson

Over the next four blog posts I will take you through the treatment of this unusually shaped little glass vessel.

It arrived in early 2018 for conservation as part of the hands-on ‘Treatment 2 subject. It is was a gift to the Ian Potter Museum of Art (IPMoA) in 2011, and the collection titled it Glass Spouted Vessel.

Image 1: Front of glass vessel

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Memoirs of a Great Jar

By Sholeh Magzub, Student objects conservator completing a Masters in Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The First Steps: Making Treatment Decisions for an Ancient Egyptian Jar

An integral part of any conservation treatment is the undertaking of a decision-making process which takes into consideration ethical and practical factors. Conservators are often required to balance the needs of the stakeholders, the artist’s intent, and ethical conservation standards throughout the planning and implementation of their treatments.

Within an Australian context, these ethical standards are provided by the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) Code of Ethics and Code of Practice (2002), which delineates a detailed approach for holistic and ethical professional practices of conservation.

As a student conservator at the University of Melbourne, Australia, this code of ethics took a front seat in guiding the treatment plan designed for the conservation of an Egyptian beer jar in the university’s collection.

Figure 1- Four side profiles of the Egyptian jar with pointed base before commencing treatment. Photographs by Sholeh Magzub.

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Treatment Blog 1: Can You Be-Leaf It?

by Hannah Stewart

Figure 1: Before Treatment photo of Eustace Leaf in Frame (Alfred William Eustace, Australian Landscape, c.1880. Grainger Museum Collection, 0000.5039)

Embarking on a major treatment is full of excitement and trepidation, especially when working on a painting with such a very unusual support!

My major treatment project is a leaf painted by Alfred William Eustace (c 1870s) belonging to the Grainger Museum. Eustace emigrated to Chiltern in North Eastern Victoria in 1851 and began painting to capture the spirit of the Australian bush. Canvas and paper were not often readily available on the goldfields, so Eustace turned to large juvenile white box gum leaves. It is not unheard of for artists to paint on leaves, but while that was often a departure from the norm.

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Treating Rose Grainger’s Gown

by Rachel Jones


Image: Accessories once owned by Rose Grainger, from the Grainger Museum. These include a sash (top left), collar (middle centre), an unknown accessory (middle right) and a muff (middle bottom).

Use of animal furs for fashion is a debated topic in contemporary society due to animal rights activism and the continuing use of real animal fur, even with faux fur alternatives available. No matter a view on use of fur in clothing made today, vintage clothing made entirely from or containing fur is a testament to how fur has been used in the fashion industry for hundreds of years. Animal pelts are recorded to have been used in Ancient Egypt, through to the aristocracy in Europe where the wearing of fur could define wealth, separating one’s self from the peasantry (Pequignot, A 2006, pp. 245-246).

The taxidermy of animals for display has been recorded as occurring from the 16th century, where various preservatives were used in order to keep the object from deteriorating and being attacked by insects (Pequignot, pp. 246). Preservatives took various forms from the first recorded taxidermy, and from the mid-1700s materials that are now deemed extremely hazardous to humans, such as arsenic and mercury, were used in the making of pesticides and preservatives (Sirios, PJ 2001, pp. 65-66).

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There’s a Chair in There – Determining Age through Materials and Typology

Ladder-back chair purchased by Rose Grainger while living in London (1901-1914). Grainger Museum Collection, 01.0126

by Jessie Gray


The ladder back chair, an artefact from the Grainger museum, came with very little information about its history and materials. The 1909-1914 date given to the object relates to its acquisition by Rose Grainger, correlating to the period when she was living in London. The chair’s label may have offered more information but unfortunately it is scratched and not completely legible.

Conservation specialist Robin Hodgson examined the chair and assessed it as being made in England, due to the use of English oak in the manufacturing of the frame. She also gave a rough manufacture date of 1830’s, citing typology and material use. With further research, I was able to compile material and typological evidence that supported her view.

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Striking a balance: Conservation vs Industry in a treatment of coining tools from the Perth Mint.

by Claire Rowson


Before Treatment

Coining master tools from the Perth Mint have finally arrived at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne where they will be undergoing a month-long treatment and analysis on corrosion products forming on their surfaces.

These tools are part of a collection of the Mint’s manufacturing output since 1986 (Goldcorp 1999). Despite careful storage by tool makers and fabricators, the collection is exhibiting the full rainbow of known iron corrosion products. It is thus likely that this initial treatment will lead into and inform a mass conservation project of these objects over the coming months.

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