AGATO was developed as a part of the research project ArtGarden

or Art Technical Research and Preservation of Historical Mixed - Media Ensembles: 'Enclosed Gardens'

Central to this project is the unique collection of seven Enclosed Gardens from the Mechelen City Museum. The Enclosed Gardens date back to the 16th Century and belonged to the former convent of Mechelen's Hospital Sisters. They are testimonials of a high artistic quality, religious handcraft and devotional tradition. For the Hospital Sisters, these retables were a way to experience their devotion and spirituality. The Enclosed Gardens are wooden retable cabinets with virtually countless little elements (about 400 per cabinet) composed of a multitude of materials in complex configurations: brass and silk flowers, glass and brass berries, polychrome wooden statuettes, paper banderoles, relics, etc.

A glance at the Enclosed Gardens | video

The restoration of these extraordinary Belgian heritage artifacts were the starting point for the network project ArtGarden. The ArtGarden team comprises art historians, conservator-restorers, preventive conservation specialists and conservation scientists who delve into the multifaceted process of safeguarding and enabling the sustainable use of each Enclosed Garden, as well as other types of historical mixed-media objects.

One part of the project focuses on their conservation treatment, supported by advanced imaging techniques, laboratory analyses and art historical research. Another part tackles preventive conservation issues. For complex objects like these, the choice of preventive conservation measures is not straightforward. The material interaction issues of mixed-media objects from all over the world are countless and are not fully researched yet. Concerns related to the complexity of mixed material interactions is a universal problem and a headache for every collection manager and object restorer. Examining other mixed media artefacts in addition to the Enclosed Gardens will raise the profile of this type of underappreciated collections. Hopefully it increases attention and care for the many historical mixed media objects worldwide (folk art, ethnographic art, religious artefacts, costumes, manuscripts...).

Therefore, the project partners have developed an online decision-support tool AGATO to help heritage caretakers make more knowledgeable decisions. This tool aims at wider applicability to cover historical mixed-media objects in general. Content, language, illustrations and interface design have been conceived to be user-friendly and match the target audience of heritage caretakers.

The project's main objectives:

Investigate the (art) historical & anthropological pedigree of the Enclosed Gardens and their material-technical pedigree, conservation history and the degradation phenomena.

Investigate the overall risks for the preservation of the Gardens, and how the objects need to be conserved, treated or restored in order to delay further decay.

Develop a free and user-friendly online tool that will alert collection managers to the risks associated with the preservation of their historical mixed-media objects, fed by mixed-media knowledge coming from literature research and the new insights gathered from research on the ArtGarden corpus, as well as built-up own expertise on risk analysis for cultural heritage.

ArtGarden is a network-project funded by the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service Science Policy, Belspo (2016-2022). It is part of the BRAIN-be research program (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks).

Belspo | BRAINbe | ArtGarden

Final report ArtGarden

Many thanks to the Belspo team and in particular to Helena Calvo del Castillo, Research Programme Manager - Heritage Science Belspo, for the close follow-up and support.

The strength of the ArtGarden project lies in the powerful collaboration between the three scientific project partners, which include :

  • the Preventive Conservation Unit (coordinator), the Textile Research Lab & the Lab of Paper, Leather & Parchment of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA);
  • the Faculty of Theology & Religious Studies & the Faculty of Arts of the KU Leuven University (Book Heritage Lab & VIEW - KU Leuven Core facility for Heritage Science and Digitisation Technologies);
  • the Department of Bioscience Engineering of the University of Antwerp (A-Sense Lab / Antwerp Electrochemical and Analytical Sciences Lab).
KIK IRPA KU LEUVEN Universiteit Antwerpen Illuminare Belspo

International expert meeting

During the course of the ArtGarden project, an expert meeting with national and international experts met in January 2019 to discuss the fundamental issues of the project, to evaluate the progress of the research and guide the different phases of the project.

During the in-depth discussions and consultations, the experts gave input on the development of AGATO: the scope, the target audience, the content, the software and potential case-studies.

During the course of the entire project, the coordinator regularly contacted several experts to check on specific issues.

Members of the expert meeting:

Belgian ArtGarden team (KIK-IRPA, KU Leuven, UA):

Marjolijn Debulpaep (Head of the Preventive Conservation Unit, KIK-IRPA, coordinator)

Elke Otten (Scientific Collaborator on ArtGarden, Preventive Conservation Unit)

Willemien Anaf ((former) Scientific Collaborator on ArtGarden, Preventive Conservation Unit)

Marina Van Bos (Scientific Collaborator, Paper, Leather & Parchement Laboratories, KIK-IRPA)

Ina Vanden Berghe (Scientific Collaborator, Textiles Laboratories, KIK-IRPA)

Lieve Watteeuw (Head of Book Heritage Lab & VIEW, Illuminare, KU Leuven, promotor)

Bruno Vandermeulen (Head of VIEW, KU Leuven)

Hendrik Hameeuw (Scientific Collaborator, VIEW, KU Leuven)

Mark Proesmans (Scientific Collaborator, ESAT, KU Leuven)

Karolien De Wael (Research professor, A-Sense Lab, Antwerp University, promotor)

Andrea Marchetti (Scientific Collaborator on ArtGarden, A-Sense Lab)

Victoria Beltran (Scientific Collaborator on ArtGarden, A-Sense Lab)

National experts (B):

Caroline Meert | Monumentenwacht Interior Antwerp, former Scientific Collaborator on ArtGarden for KIK-IRPA

Erik Buelinckx | Supervisor of the Documentation Centre, KIK-IRPA

Hannah Iterbeke | (former) Collection Care, Museum Hof van Busleyden, Mechelen

Elsje Janssen | (former) Director of Collections, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Antwerp

International experts:

Stefan Michalski | (retired) Senior Conservation Scientist, Preservation Services Department, Canadian Conservation Institute

José Luiz Pedersoli Jr. | Project Manager, Conservation of Collection, ICCROM, Rome

Bart Ankersmit | Senior Researcher, Cultural Heritage Laboratory, RCE, The Netherlands

Ruven Pillay | Research Scientist, Project Manager at Archive Visualization and Exploitation, C2RMF, Paris

Belgian colleagues and experts:

Hilde De Clercq | General Director a.i., KIK-IRPA

Griet Kockelkoren | Head of the Textiles Restoration Workshop, KIK-IRPA

Laura Debry | Collaborator of the Preventive Conservation Unit, KIK-IRPA

Estelle De Bruyn | Collaborator of the Preventive Conservation Unit, KIK-IRPA

Edwin De Roock | Head of IT, KIK-IRPA

Wim Fremout | Scientific Collaborator of the Painting Laboratories, KIK-IRPA

Claudine Belleflamme | (retired) Programme Manager, Belspo

Maaike Vancauwenberghe | Programme Manager, Belspo