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Dr Klaas Jan van den Berg (1964) has been appointed professor of the Chemical Aspects of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, with an emphasis on painting, at the University of Amsterdam's (UvA) Faculty of Humanities. This part-time appointment at the Department of Arts and Culture was made possible by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) as part of its collaboration with the UvA in the Atelier Building. In parallel with his professorship at the UvA, Van den Berg will continue to work as a senior researcher at the RCE.

Berg, Klaas Jan van den
Credits: Dirk Gillissen

Klaas Jan van den Berg specialises in chemical research into paintings, and in particular of the chemical and physical properties of paint systems and how they are affected by restoration methods. His research focuses on expanding knowledge and understanding of chemical and physical ageing processes of paint and other materials used in the production of paintings.

A painting’s ‘skin’

Though oil paint is his focus, Van den Berg’s work looks at other materials, too, including the natural and synthetic resins used by painters and also restorers in the form of glue or varnish. Most recently Van den Berg has concentrated primarily on the surface, or ‘skin’, of paintings, and how its appearance is affected by light, humidity and grime. For example, many modern paintings have no protective layer of varnish, so the surface is directly exposed to impurities and other influences in the air. Their surface can be extremely fragile, in part due to the use of substandard materials or poor painting technique. They may also be vulnerable to moisture or solvents, which can greatly complicate the restorer’s job.

 ‘Understanding the fundamental processes contributing to all of these changes and how they impact a work’s appearance plays a key part in assessing an artwork and deciding how to treat it’, says Van den Berg. ‘In this way, I try to help curators and restorers reach well-informed decisions about possible restoration procedures, and suggest alternatives, where they exist’.

Technological developments

As a UvA professor, Van den Berg will continue to focus on gaining more comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the progressive material changes that occur after a painting’s creation and how they might be delayed or even reversed. In his courses, which are mainly for students in the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage programme, Van den Berg aims to integrate recent technological developments and thereby familiarise restorers with the use of equipment for scientific analysis.

About Van den Berg

Van den Berg studied Chemistry in Utrecht and received his doctorate in Chemistry from the UvA in 1994. He has extensive experience of university teaching and of supervising students and doctoral candidates, including at the UvA. He has also been active at various leading conservation and restoration institutes for more than 15 years now, including the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL) in Maastricht, more recently in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam. Since 2000, Van den Berg has been senior researcher at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE; formerly the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage).