Study of a wooden panel

The Musée Fabre brings you a unique restoration project

L'expérience continue avec un autre panneau de bois exemplaire : Sainte-Agnès, anonyme allemand, 1516

Découvrez en cliquant la prochaine étape de cette expérience scientifique inédite : 

Consultez, en cliquant, les derniers résultats d'un dispositif expérimental hors norme :

Retrait du cadre et observation du panneau -Joseph Grille en cours d’analyse des résultats


Protect the works, return the brilliance and life to those works which have suffered changes - all institutions holding public collections have this duty for future generations. Since its renovation project started in 2002 and its reopening in 2007 the Musée Fabre has led an intense programme of restoration of its collections. Nearly 250 works have been treated. For the first time, the teams wish to share their work with visitors and engage them with an innovative and ambitious scientific study.

You will never look at the works in the same way again

 An unusual patient in the Jeu de Paume gallery; a work under close supervision

Panneau de bois dans chambre climatique


The restoration of artworks is at the junction of art and science. Just like a living being, a work of art is sensitive to its surroundings and reacts to its environment. It is comparable to a human body and the equilibrium of a work of art is subject to the interaction of several factors. Each work is individual and has to be approached with infinite precautions and attention, just like a sick patient in medicine. It requires supervision and specific treatments. The equipment in the Jeu de Paume gallery will enable visitors to discover a specific work of art and all the complexity of its material, not just its visual appearance. The work of art is no longer looked at as an image but as a living body. 

The 'equipped' artwork is installed in the Jeu de Paume gallery, in an acclimatised chamber, standing on scales which measure the variations in mass. 
Refixage et vérification de la couche picturale
Fixing and verification of the pictorial layer by Danièle Amoroso, art restorer, before the project starts

The patient: 'A Holy Trinity crowning the Virgin' (1516) by an anonymous Spanish or Flemish artist, painted on a panel consisting of four oak planks. 

The diagnosis: The work presents mechanical structural problems which are creating cracks on the surface and rear, and which have a negative impact of the preservation of the pictorial layer. 

Previous operations: panelling attached to the rear before the 1970s unfortunately did not solve the problems and, in conjunction with climatic variations, may have initiated or accentuated the problems. 

The latest techniques for a 5 centuries old work.

The scientific study takes place under public scrutiny, in a glass walled space which will enable visitors to follow 'live' the tests being carried out on the patient.

The work is installed in an acclimatised enclosure where the effect of climatic conditions on the panel and even the effect of finite temperature and humidity fluctuations can be monitored. This will help understand its reaction to its environment. It is permanently under surveillance by 4 cameras and 3 mechanical captors to measure the deformations. 

To record the painting's reactions the following measuring devices are used:

Kits Déformométriques

Three Deformometric Kits, equipped with electronic deformation captors, installed on the back of the painting, record the mechanical consequences of climatic changes within the enclosure on the work. 

A highly precise set of scales measure the absorption and elimination of water molecules by the panel


The stickers placed on the painting's surface act as reference points for the cameras. They pose no toxic risk for the painting. 

Two pairs of cameras continuously film the front and back of the work, offering a three-dimensional study of the panel. 


Many tests will be carried out over a period of several months on the work accompanied and then separated from its frame. 

The measurements collected will be used to produce scientific illustrations charting the variations. 

We will give an update about the patient and its evolving state of health every month using the recorded measurements. 

Study objective: Establishment of a care procedure

This unusual encephalogram will lead to the definition of the best restoration plan and the long term preservation of the painting. It will also give important general information about the reactions of paintings on wood to the environment. 

A shock intervention team


Relevé des fissures du support
      Examination of frame cracks by Gilles Tournillon, restorer of works in wood                     

The History of Art, and the Physical and Chemical sciences need to join forces to understand the mechanics of artwork decay and deepen knowledge about materials.

The 'doctors' are the best. They are restorers, engineers, researchers into mechanical solids and wood mechanics, chemists and art historians.

The experts come from:

   - The wood team, Mechanical et Civil Engineering Laboratory  (LMGC), Montpellier University, CNRS, Montpellier

   - The PEM team (Photomechanical and mechanical experiments) GMSC from the PPRIME, UPR3346  CNRS, POITIERS University, ISAE-ENSMA.

    - Florence University, Italy, Department GESAAF 'Science and Technologies of Wood and Forestry Exploitations'.

    - The project Climate4Wood from the  programme Science4Arts, The Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Involved institutes: The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, The Dutch Ministry of Culture (RCE) and the Technical Universities of Eindhoven and Delft.

Restoration team :

- Gilles Tournillon  (wooden frame, acclimatised enclosure)

- Danièle Amoroso (pictorial layer)

- Philippe Hazael Massieux  (wooden frame)

Pose du verre sur les deux faces de la chambre climatique
Installing glass on the two sides of the acclimatised chamber, by Olivier Chassagne, head of the Musée Fabre technical team

The sequel in 2018: An exhibition on this exceptional and unique restoration programme.

In 2018 an exhibition will present the public with the collection of restored works and discoveries made during different interventions.
Six works from the permanent collections will reveal five different artistic materials (painting on wood and canvas, sculpture, drawing, contemporary materials) and five problematic materials.
This exhibition will enable visitors to see that, before being displayed to be admired, miracles take place in the hands of restorers...

The first results of a unique experimental process

©Delphine Jullien  (Equipe Bois, LMGC, UMR5508, Montpellier University-CNRS) at GDR Bois, Bordeaux

The project presented by our partners:!

This project has been made possible with financial support from the Regional Direction of Culture Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées and with thanks to generous sponsorship from the Fondation BNP Paribas and The Friends of the Musée Fabre. 

Kits Déformométriques
Luca Uzielli (GESAAF) in front of the three Deformometric Kits positioned on the rear of the panel