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The challenges of preserving artworks in Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo (Hadrian’s mole or “Castellum Crescentii” in the 10th-12th centuries), also called the Mausoleum of Hadrian, is a monument located on the right bank of the Tiber in Rome, opposite the Pons Aelius (currently called Ponte Sant’Angelo), not far from the Vatican, in the Borgo district. it connects to Vatican City via the fortified corridor known as the “passetto”. The castle was radically reconstructed several times in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance.
Owned by the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities (MIBAC), in December 2014 the museum became part of the Lazio Museum Complex.
Inside the complex, the former papal rooms have been converted into a venue that periodically hosts temporary exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, drawings and works on paper.

The reliability of an invisible system

As we have already seen in another post, works of art are very sensitive to variations in temperature and humidity; these must never undergo sudden changes and indeed need to remain stable, respectively between 18-20°C and 45% and 50%.
Compliance with these constraints in older buildings involves a whole series of critical issues that are not always easy to manage.
In Castel Sant’Angelo, a non-invasive measurement and supervisory system, totally concealed from visitors, and that guaranteed a high degree of reliability, with the possibility of remote alarms, supervision and control, were the priorities. The system also needed to be flexible and reusable, as the exhibition spaces are used for exhibitions with different control requirements, both in terms of the space occupied and the objects on display. The system needed to be integrated into the exhibit rooms not involved in the initial installation, thus communicating with the existing systems, and also needed to interface with any technology added subsequently, without restrictions in terms of brands or products. Everything had to be done quickly, so as to be ready in time for the planned opening date of the exhibition.

Which problems have been encountered?

The fundamental problem for the care and protection of the exhibited works was insufficient temperature and humidity control. The rooms, due to their structure, had different thermal and humidity loads, and the works on display required different set points, as established by the museum curator. The supervisory and control solution installed allowed interaction with other products installed for air temperature control and dehumidification, as well as with the ultrasonic precision humidifiers, interacting with these based on active alarm notifications and allowing solutions to be applied remotely. The use of ultrasonic humidifiers fulfilled the pressing demand for precise control of humidity in the different rooms.
The architecture comprises a 4 metre interior and 1.5 metre exterior wall structure, together with metal structures placed on the openings, with consequent potential problems in the transmission of data via the Zig-Bee wireless protocol. However, the use of an external network of bridge routers overcame any communication problems between the probes and the supervisor. The chosen products were installed in a non-invasive way, in compliance with the organisers’ requirements: giving visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in a sixteenth century environment, without interference by electronic instruments.

 

Conclusions

The monitoring system developed was able to guarantee, in a very short time and with reduced installation costs, the very strict temperature-humidity requirements ( 22 degrees +/- 1.5 degrees - RH 55% +/- 3%). These requirements are fundamental for the correct conservation of the exhibited works, coming from leading museums around the world, and had to be complied with in order for the exhibition to go ahead.
The resulting system is highly flexible and easily expandable to all exhibition spaces, with very low integration costs and fast installation, a fundamental requirement due to the very short time available to have all the structures in Castel Sant’Angelo ready for use.
 

Related Posts


Humidity control in museums and libraries

Artworks sensitivity to relative humidity

The materials used in artworks and their reactions to fluctuations in relative humidity

 

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