Museum Inside-Out: Conservation Department

For additional resources, see the Kohl’s Art Generation Online Lab & Gallery guide.

Art and science combine in the Conservation Lab, where staff trained in art history, studio art, and chemistry keep the artworks in the Collection in tip-top shape. Conservators also help us understand more about the history of a work of art by using many scientific techniques. First, see an overview of what happens in the Conservation Lab. Then, scroll down to take a closer look at one painting with a conservator.

↓ What does a conservator do?

↓ Conservation: Tools of the Trade

↓ Conservation in Action

↓ Conserving 3-D Objects

Take a Closer Look…

The videos below look at the painting Noli Me Tangere (ca. 1520) by Battista Dossi using methods conservators use. Which video do you think tells us the most? If you were a conservator, which one would be your favorite?

↓ X-Ray View
Did you know that paintings get X-rays, too? X-rays help conservators see what is underneath the surface of a painting. It can reveal many hidden secrets about the painting, including earlier sketches and ideas the artist had before settling on the final composition.

↓ Raking Light
When you shine a bright light on a painting from the side, you are looking at it with “raking light.” This helps conservators see details that can’t be seen in regular light, such as the artist’s technique and surface damage.

↓ Ultraviolet Light
You might know that ultraviolet rays are what cause sunburn, but conservators use ultraviolet (UV) lights to look at touch-ups and restorations to an artwork. A conservator can then figure out which parts the artist originally painted and which were “improvements” by others.

↓ Photomicrograph
Have you ever used a microscope at school? Conservators use one, too, to zoom in very close to a work of art to learn more about it. A “photomicrograph” is a photograph taken at the microscopic level, which is what you see here.

↓ Verso
“Verso” is a fancy term for the backside of a work. The back of a painting can carry just as much information as the front. The labels, numbers, and notes that sometimes appear on the back of a painting can tell us about its structure and who owned the painting before the Museum.

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