Post-Doc : Historical technology and materials of the carriages and sledges of the KMKG-MRAH museum (Antwerp/Brussels)

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The KMKG-MRAH holds an exceptional collection of about eighty carriages and sledges dating from the late 17th until the early 20th C, including 11 coaches on loan from the Belgian Royal House. Although these objects accurately reflect the historical innovations in technology and material science of their era, hippomobile heritage remains an understudied field in heritage science. In recent years, a preliminary damage assessment of the KMKG-MRAH collection highlighted the exceptional original state of the objects, but in parallel raised concern for the poor material condition, especially of the interiors that include upholstery, shades, cushions, passementary and trimmings. A survey highlighted the complexity of preserving these mixed-material interiors, bringing instable inorganic materials (e.g., corroding metal) in close contact with sensitive organic materials such as (oiled) textile fibres, leather and early synthetic materials. As such, the goal of BELCAIRE (Belgian Carriage Interior Research Project) is to develop a model for a long-term preservation strategy not only targeting the KMKG-MRAH collection but applicable to all hippomobile heritage. Therefore the researcher gains insight into the largely unknown, innovative materials and craftmanship employed for the manufacture of carriages by combining the study of historical sources (patents and manuals) with a careful optical inspection and chemo-physical characterization of a selection of carriages. In the first phase/two years, BELCAIRE focuses on four case studies which are representative for various social classes. In later years enlarging this corpus will allow finetuning and benchmarking the obtained insights. After this material study ongoing degradation phenomena are identified and listed whereas their mechanisms and urgency are further assessed through the production and artificial ageing of mock-ups. Based on the obtained insights, a generic risk assessment model is drawn up for hippomobile heritage, guiding curators and conservators in their decision-making processes for active and passive conservation. In this way, BELCAIRE aims to close the knowledge gap on the conservation and preservation of hippomobile heritage and contributes to the understanding of cumulative damage caused by mixed materials and techniques in carriage interiors in particular.

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