Blog Post

Cloister of St. Trophime

For the last year, WMF has participated in a number of on-site meetings to analyze the columns and capitals that form the cloister of St. Trophime and determine the best methods for cleaning, repairing, and maintaining the structure. The work involves a thorough analysis by international stone conservation experts of the materials used to make the columns and capitals, many of which are different types of stones and have deteriorated in different ways. During the summer of 2008, Arles-based Laboratoire d'Etudes et de Recherche sur les Matériaux completed an extensive survey of the sculpture to determine the original colors of the stones in the cloister, their chemical composition, and the ways in which the aging of the stones affects the patina seen today. In addition, WMF has entered into partnerships with several organizations to complete technical studies and document the process of working at the cloister.

The Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH) has completed testing to determine if the sculpture of the column capitals can be cleaned with either UV or Infra-red lasers or a combination of both. While laser cleaning is used with increasing frequency in the field, the challenges at St. Trophime require extensive analysis, as the stones are not uniform in composition. WMF has partnered with CyArk, a U.S.-based nonprofit pioneer in using laser scanning and 3D models for preservation documentation, to create laser scans of the cloister. These scans will be used to present the conservation program through web-based 3D models in combination with drawings, high-resolution photography, and narrative descriptions of treatments employed. To assure that the information resulting from this project is useful to local authorities in future years, WMF has contracted with Avencia, a U.S.-based GIS software development firm, to develop a stone conservation database that will track all documentation, treatment, and data collection on each element in the cloister. This will be available to the City of Arles as a monitoring tool in the future should any additional conservation work be necessary or if the authorities wish to study any particular column, capital, or other stone decoration in the cloister to see if there are any discernable changes since the conclusion of the work.

This international collaboration is allowing a variety of technologies to be employed and is encouraging the exchange of expertise among colleagues. Of greatest importance to WMF is the opportunity to document the project in a way that provides high-quality information to experts and stewards of the site. Web-based tools also will provide new ways to disseminate the information to a broader audience and offer its constituency a clearer understanding of the conservation process and results.