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25 September marks the launch of a new research centre, the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS). Minister of Education, Culture & Science Jet Bussemaker officially opened the centre during an event at the Rijksmuseum. The unique NICAS research centre brings together art history, conservation and restoration with the natural sciences, with the aim of improving the preservation of cultural heritage.

This multidisciplinary approach connects art history research with chemistry and physics expertise, as well as with ICT in order to develop specialised programmes. ‘This approach facilitates the development of new applications that help us to better understand, preserve and visualise national and international heritage’, explains Robert van Langh, Chairperson of NICAS and Head of Conservation and Restoration at the Rijksmuseum.

Improving fundamental expertise

How much damage will be caused to a pastel during transport to another museum? How can we develop cleaning methods without affecting the chemical balance in oil paintings? How did painters such as Jheronimus Bosch set to work? These are just a few of the questions that will occupy NICAS researchers. From ICT techniques analysing the working methods of famous painters like Bosch, to research into the sociohistorical context in which painted rooms such as the Oranjezaal at Huis ten Bosch were created – all these aspects will be addressed by NICAS. Close collaboration between the fields of natural sciences, art history, and conservation and restoration enables vital research to be conducted. ‘Up until now, natural scientists from all over the country had to be found on an ad hoc basis. All the required expertise will now be available in one place at NICAS’, says Louis Vertegaal, Director of the Chemical and Exact Sciences Division of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This will provide firm foundations for the development of better restoration and conservation techniques, the selection of optimal storage conditions and for an improved understanding of art objects and their history.


NICAS is a collaboration between the NWO, the Rijksmuseum, the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). The institute will establish a joint research programme and a sustained research network that unites a range of disciplines. The NWO has made €5 million available for the first five years of the project. The allocation of the first round of applications for new NICAS projects is planned for autumn 2015.