Philosophical Society of Washington

Art and Science: Two Ways of Seeing

Barbara H. Berrie
Senior Conservation Scientist, National Gallery of Art

2141st Meeting Abstract
Friday, February 08, 2002 at 8:15 PM


Art conservation is a field where knowledge gained from the sciences and the arts must come together in order to accomplish its purpose. The outcome of a conservation treatment must satisfy art historians and connoisseurs but its practical achievement depends on using tools and methods appropriate for the material object and on the premise of conservation that all treatment to a work of art must be readily reversible without permanently affecting it. This involves knowing what materials were used in the creation of a work and how they were put together. It also involves an understanding of the chemistry and properties of materials used for the practice of conservation. This presentation will illustrate how chemistry is applied to the analysis of materials in works of art, and and show how knowledge gained from chemical analysis provides insight into the the original appearance of a work and its current state of preservation. Examples will be drawn from the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

About the Author:

Barbara H. Berrie received a B.Sc.(Hons) from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. From 1982 to 1984 she was a National Research Council Research Associate at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. She joined the Scientific Research Department of the Conservation Division, National Gallery of Art in 1984 and is now Senior Conservation Scientist. Her current interests are in improving knowledge of artists' materials in order to help conservators choose appropriate conservation strategies and the technical examination of works of art.

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