Project Outline

Colour photograph of the Knole House Portrait of Thomas Sackville (courtesy of the National Trust)

This three-year EPSRC-funded research project is in collaboration with Imperial College, London and the National Trust. Their unique collection of forty C17th panel paintings which have been together for over 400 years at Knole House, Kent form a key case study.

The aim of this research is to determine how initiation of cracks due to cyclic environmental conditions eventually leads to delamination of the painted surface or underlying layers. Such damage leads to loss of the image or motif, resulting in changes to the aesthetic of the work, change in meaning and appreciation of the viewer.

  • Through technical examination of the Brown Gallery, Knole House portraits
  • Contextual evidence
  • Extrapolation of 400 years of English weather
  • Characterisation of their present condition
  • Modelling and experimental testing of crack formation and environmentally induced fatigue
  • We can predict their future behaviour and plan for their preservation
  • Knowledge and methodologies which will inform other painted cultural heritage
  • Develop an access and care policy that preserves context, interpretation, study and materiality.

For over four decades, the environmental guidelines for museums and institutions have been defined within narrow parameters. Conditions for multi-layer painted wooden objects in particular are amongst the most tightly controlled. This research will lead to experimental and predictive modelling methods for the prediction of fatigue lifetime of panel paintings and related cultural heritage. It will therefore help collections to define strategies for efficient environmental control which has become essential in the light of the future energy crisis and a rising awareness of green technology.

Useful Links

For more information, visit the project website.



This project is funded by an EPSRC research grant, and is conducted with the assistance of the National Trust at Knole House.