Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage | KIK-IRPA

Parc du Cinquantenaire 1, 1000 Brussels



Established in 1948, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) is one of ten scientific institutions falling within the competence of the Federal Ministry of Scientific Policy (BELSPO). KIK-IRPA is committed to the inventory, the scientific study, the conservation and the promotion of the country's artistic and cultural property. The Institute, whose chief mission is research and public service, represents a unique instrument for the heritage of our country, both movable and immovable.

KIK-IRPA strives for the highest forms of research and conservation-restoration. This is only possible through a synergy between various disciplines. KIK-IRPA brings together art historians, photographers, chemists, physicists, conservators-restorers, preventive conservation experts, experts in image creation, engineers, geologists, etc. By bringing together their findings, KIK-IRPA brings together relevant data and studies artworks and collections from different angles. In addition, KIK-IRPA also shares and valorizes knowledge with the heritage community on the works of art, the heritage and the technology of conservation and restoration.

Departments, Research Unit & Laboratories

Conservation-Restoration Department

Preventive Conservation Unit

Laboratory Department

Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment

Textile Research Lab

Conservation-Restoration Department

The Conservation-Restoration Department consists of 7 restoration studios (according to the materials studied) and a Preventive Conservation Unit. All mainly work for museums, churches, public collections and listed monuments but they can also work for private collectors when a work of art is of high quality and displays a major research interest.

Preventive Conservation Unit
Since its creation in 2007, the Preventive Conservation Unit has been focusing on assisting heritage institutions with their requests to improve conservation conditions for their collections. By researching environmental conditions based on measuring campaigns, drawing up detailed condition reports as a neutral advisory organ, studying conservation conditions of masterpieces and following up exhibition conditions, the Preventive Conservation Unit has built up a broad expertise. It operates with an holistic approach based on the Framework of the Ten Agents of Deterioration to analyze the risks for the heritage at stake, and to contextualize the conservation condition of objects and collections.
Frameworks such as the Ten Agents of Deterioration are systematically used in risk analyses, mainly in the risk identification step, and they are considered as the starting point for any project in the Preventive Conservation Unit. To be put into practice, this framework requires a flexible team with people from various backgrounds combining their knowledge, collaborating with people of diverse fields of expertise, and achieving results by working on a wide range of missions, requiring at once sharp scientific methodology and quality social interactions.

The Preventive Conservation Unit:
  • provides advice on the appropriate materials for preventive conservation (for the storage, exhibition, preservation of objects, etc.);
  • assists in the development of the best possible exhibition or storage method for special art objects, such as the Enclosed Gardens of Mechelen, the tapestry cartoon of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, etc.;
  • performs measurements and gives advice on the optimal climate conditions (temperature, relative humidity, light and UV);
  • advices on how to prevent damage by micro-organisms, insects and rodents (Integrated Pest Management or IPM);
  • advices on collection and storage management. As coordinator of the RE-ORG Belgium strategy, the unit helps museums RE-ORGanize their collections in storage in order to make them accessible to collection managers and researchers;
  • uses the QuiskScan method for risk analysis.

Preventive Conservation Research Team

Marjolijn Debulpaep, MA in Art History and Archaeology (1999, VUB), also trained in conservation-restoration of paintings (2001, Academie Beeldende Kunsten Anderlecht ) and specialized in preventive conservation trough international INP and ICCROM courses. She joined KIK-IRPA in 2001 and created its Preventive Conservation Unit in 2007, which she still heads today. Since 2015, she has managed the RE-ORG Belgium strategy on storage reorganization and is the coordinator of the ArtGarden project.

Elke Otten obtained a Master Degree in History (1999) at the Ghent University. She has a Master Degree in Conservation-restoration (2004), metal conservation, from the former Hogeschool Antwerpen (now University of Antwerp). In 2004 she became part of the service for archaeological excavations in the Brussels Capital Region where she was in charge of the archaeological conservation workshop and storage until 2010. In 2010 she joined the scientific staff of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History where she led a small team of conservation staff. From 2014-2018 she was promotor of the AIRCHECQ project, part of the BRAINbe research program funded by BELSPO. From 2015 on, she was responsible of the Arms and Armor collection. Since 2018 she is part of the Preventive Conservation Unit. She coordinated the development of AGATO and she is the main person to have generated the content for it.

Multimedium BVBA (LTD) is a company of web experts with experience in design and development, specialized in building software that matches specific requirements. Since 2004, the Multimedium team builds tailor-made websites, complex e-commerce platforms and any other online application. Directed by Tom Bauwens, the different team members use their expertise to create the technology to automate business processes, connect software, integrate online services, and much more. Multimedium aims to help its customers in digitalizing their organizations effectively, delivering high quality projects. Multimedium took care of the complete process of developing the AGATO website and its back-end database. Multimedium

José Luiz Pedersoli Jr. holds a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the Federal University of Minas Gerais and a Master of Science in polymer chemistry from the University of Helsinki. Mr Pedersoli was previously a staff member at ICCROM between 2005 and 2008, working as conservation scientist in the Collections Unit. In the ten years since, Mr Pedersoli expanded his expertise in risk management, preventive conservation and value assessment, having advised institutions from national heritage departments, archives, historic houses and contemporary art museums, in his native Brazil and internationally. He has also been deeply engaged in ICCROM's initiatives and activities including CollAsia, LATAM and the Summer School on Communication and Teaching Skills. He has re-joined ICCROM in 2018 as Project Manager - Conservation of Collections. At the very start of ArtGarden, José Luiz developed the outline of AGATO. During the development process, he assisted the preventive conservation team and the developer Multimedium with his expertise.

Former members of the research team

Willemien Anaf has a PhD on the influence of air quality on heritage objects (UAntwerp) and specializes in risk assessment methods. Until the end of 2019, she supported the KIK-IRPA preventive conservation unit with her scientific expertise, working on research projects such as ArtGarden, for which she did the archeometric research of the Enclosed Gardens of Mechelen in view of their exhibition and its preventive conservation needs. She now works for the city of Mechelen as a consultant.

Caroline Meert holds a MA in Art History and Archaeology (2002, UCL), a MA in Restauration and conservation of paintings and polychromy (2008, KASKA) and is specialized in preventive conservation trough international INP and ICCROM courses. She joined KIK-IRPA in 2007 in the Preventive Conservation Unit until 2014. From 2014-2015 she worked asresearcher on the AIRCHECQ project, part of the BRAINbe research program funded by BELSPO. From 2016-2017 she coordinated the development of AGATO. Since September 2017 she works as an interior specialist for Monumentwatch (Province of Antwerp).

The research team would like to thank the following precious colleagues for their valuable contributions to AGATO: Griet Kockelkoren, Laura Debry, Maia Francx de Gelder, Klara Peeters, Anne-Cathérine Olbrechts, Françoise Collanges, Annelies Cosaert, Wivine Roland-Gosselin, Juliette François, Kaat Sneiders, Edwin De Roock, Wim Fremout, Estelle De Bruyn, Christian De Bruyn.

Research focus within ArtGarden

AGATO: Since its creation in 2007, the projects of the Preventive Conservation Unit have mainly focused on the following issues: the use of proper materials for exhibition, transport and storage; climate, light and IPM; storage design and management; value assessment and the application of the QuickScan method for risk analysis. The expertise gained at the collection level was - with the input of an external expert and colleague José Luiz Pedersoli Jr. - brought to the object level and poured into a concept/outline for a decision support tool for historic mixed material artefacts (AGATO). The company Multimedium developed AGATO (online tool and content management system). The Preventive Conservation team took care of the thorough literature research to populate AGATO through the CMS (risk warnings and recommendations). They worked in close consultation with Multimedium to create, test, customise, make user-friendly and ensure that the tool delivers reliable results.

Additionally, Marjolijn Debulpaep and Elke Otten also assured the coordination ArtGarden and the overall scientific research within the project.

Archeometric study
of the Enclosed Gardens by Willemien Anaf.

Keywords preventive conservation, collection care, mixed material interactions, risk warnings & recommendations, online decision support tool

Laboratory Department

Over many decades, the Laboratories have acquired a unique expertise in the study of paint layers (on sculpture, paper and parchment, murals, ancient and modern paintings, etc.), but also of textiles, glass and metal. They also deploy a wide range of analytical techniques for the study of stone in historic buildings and sculpture. Moreover, the use of dendrochronology or carbon dating is a particular asset in the dating of both buildings and works of art and archaeological objects.

Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment
Within the Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment, the materials and techniques of drawings, historical documents, wall paper, (guilt)-leather panels, illuminated manuscripts,… are being studied and identified, mainly by using a non-invasive approach. This research in collaboration with art historians, conservators-restorers,... in an interdisciplinary context reveals significant knowledge on the art object itself and on how to preserve the object for future generations.
Lab of Textile
The Textile Research Lab focuses on the study of the materials, techniques and degradation aspects of textile objects. This may concern art and historical objects as well as textiles from excavations. Material identification can be done to obtain information about the historical and geographical context of a textile, to determine the originality of the object or may be required for conservation treatment.

Laboratories Research Team

Marina Van Bos, Ph D in Chemistry, Since 1991 working in the Laboratory Department of KIK/IRPA, Head of the Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment and Senior scientist in the Lab of Monuments and monumental Decoration with a long experience in the analysis of illuminated manuscripts and mural paintings.

Ina Vanden Berghe is textile engineer and head of the KIK/IRPA Textile Research Lab since 2007. She specialized in the fields of natural and synthetic organic dyes and fibre identification with chromatographic, spectroscopic and microscopic techniques, as well as in studies of metal threads. For the Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment, she deals with the identification of organic colourants in varnishes and paint layers and with the characterisation of paper. Her special interest goes to degradation problems related to various environmental conditions.

Maaike Vandorpe is an industrial engineer in biochemistry and joined the KIK/IRPA laboratory department in 2013. She carries out analyses of different types of objects and materials for the laboratories of Textiles, Paper, Leather & Parchment and Monuments & Monumental decorations.

Alexia Coudray is a master in analytical chemistry. She also works at the KIK/IRPA laboratory department since 2011 where she carries out analyses of different types of objects and materials for the laboratories of Textiles and Paintings.

Research focus within ArtGarden

Within the Artgarden project, physico-chemical analyzes have been performed on 11 objects to characterize the constituent materials and techniques such as wax, paint, textile fibers, colorants, metal,... This was mainly done in a non-invasive approach. In order to preserve the objects as much as possible, only a limited number of micro-samples was withdrawn to be analyzed by complementary analysis techniques.
The degradation of the silk fibers, which was strongly pronounced for the different textile objects of the Enclosed Gardens of Mechelen, was studied in detail with spectroscopic, chromatographic and microscopical techniques.