Ushering out the uninvited

High-tech solution to an age-old problem

Harry Camarda
May 7, 2009

Not only humans are interested in art. Insects, the uninvited visitors to museums, eagerly devour works of art made from fabric, paper, wood and other materials.



According to an article in the April issue of Il Giornale degli Uffizi by Valentina Conticelli, insects' ‘interest' in art is a constant worry to curators and restorers, and an invasion has to be dealt with quickly but delicately to protect the priceless works of art. Conservators must keep up on the research, studying, for example, Insects Like Works of Art, a serious book despite its charming title.


They must also vigilantly check the artwork. As Conticelli explans, while reviewing the Uffizi's collection recently, restorer Rita Alzeni discovered an exponential increase in the ‘interest' of tarli (woodworms) in Lorenzo Monaco's Incoronzione della Vergine, requiring immediate intervention. However, the large size of the painting's three wooden panels and the intricate carpentry of its elaborate frame presented unique problems. A solution demanded creativity and willingness to experiment.

To the rescue came Drs. Isetta Tosini and Marco Tarducci, who, through the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, are researching ways of treating insect infestations in works of art.


Their solution allowed the work to be kept in its place, Sale 5-6. From the room's skylight they hung a large sac made of special material, completely enclosing the important fifteenth-century triptych. They slowly introduced nitrogen gas, fatal to tarli, into the sac. As the nitrogen concentration, pressure and other important variables were monitored by sophisticated equipment, the larva and eggs in the wood were gradually eliminated.


As a measure, the backs of the panels were treated to deter future ‘art-lovers' from invading the work.


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