Webinar Interview with Dr. Josep Grau-Bové of University College London

This webinar interview series with art world industry experts, recorded exclusively for Sotheby’s Institute of Art, reveals the stories behind decades of experience in collecting, managing and curating collections.

In this interview with Dr. Josep Grau-Bové, Lecturer at University College London, we hear some fascinating stories of material decay on the Mary Rose ship.

Webinar Transcript

Welcome to this ArtRatio Expert Interview, conducted exclusively for Sotheby’s Institute of Art. I’m delighted to be joined today by Dr. Josep Grau-Bové from University College London. Josep is the course director for the Master’s program in ‘Data Science for Cultural Heritage’. Josep’s team develops new computational methods for preventive conservation using building information modelling, agent-based modeling and system dynamics, with a special interest in transport phenomena in artwork materials. Welcome, Josep!

Thank you for having me, Manoj. My expertise is in using computers and experiments to understand heritage environments. Knowing well the environment is as important for preservation as knowing the materials. Often, the environment tells us a lot about the materials themselves. For example there are materials that when they degrade, they emit certain chemicals.

To give you an example:- once while investigating display cases in a museum I found one that smelled very strongly of vinegar. When I opened it the instruments detected very high levels of acetic acid. It was being emitted from the wood itself as it was chemically degrading. Such emissions can have a strong corrosive effect on objects made of lead, for example Roman coins.

Another case where acidic emissions are problematic is in archaeological wood. My team has developed sensors to detect early stages of degradation in this type of material, for example in the Mary Rose ship. This ship was salvaged from the sea decades ago. It was then dried very very slowly in a custom-made drying chamber and the environment was monitored very carefully. As you can imagine, the ship has both wood and metal parts, such as cannonballs and nails and so on. These materials, as we have seen, are not compatible but they cannot be separated. Therefore monitoring and simulation are very important to control the environment.

Thank you very much, Josep. This has been most illuminating and I’m sure Sotheby’s students will learn a lot from this. I wish you a great day ahead.

Thank you.