Our Lord in the Attic: A Case Study

Condition assessment

Condition assessment (photo: P. Ryan)To get a better understanding of the condition of the building and its contents, a condition assessment was undertaken by an interdisciplinary team of professionals. A so-called core team (consisting of 2 conservators, a restoration architect and 2 conservation scientists as well as the curatorial museum staff) gathered information to establish overall condition, pinpoint problematic areas and identify the need and type of specialized knowledge required from additional experts.



Condition assessment of the floor near the organ.

Condition assessment (in the confessional)

Selection of objects for the condition assessment (PDF, 33KB)

Condition assessment August 2006

Condition assessment of the pulpit (photo: P. Ryan)The core team carried out a first in-depth survey on site on 11, 14 and 15 August 2006 and liaised with museum staff throughout the assessment process. On 21 August 2006, the findings of the core team were discussed with a larger ‘resource team’. This approach was chosen as the most practical under the circumstances – rooms in the house are small and visitation in this period is high. Thus the impact of the assessment on the public and the building was minimized.

Due to time restraints (there were only 3 days for the on-site assessment), it was decided that the assessment would focus on certain objects. In this way the it could also generate more detailed information about representative objects, rather then a global description of a lot of things.

Criteria were set to select these objects:

In addition, priority was given to objects in the church, canal room and sael, as the indoor climate in these rooms was recorded.

Example of damage documented in the statue of St Paul in the church.

selection for assessment 'Description of area' database (PDF, 664KB)

selection for assessment Database area reference key (XLS, 571KB)

selection for assessment Selection of objects for the condition assessment (PDF, 33KB)

selection for assessment Collection catalogue (PDF, 5.5MB)

selection for assessment Agents of deterioration (PDF, 50KB)

Condition assessment data

Specific data was collected during the on-site survey and transferred into two databases: the ‘Description of area’ database describes the rooms, hallways and staircases in the building in terms of area orientation, floor level, date, treatment history, maintenance, dimensions, doors, windows, source of heating and ventilation, temperature, RH and AH observations, light sources, UV or IR measures and occupation of the space. A unique area reference number was used to distinguish between the different areas in the house.

Impression of the databaseThe collection catalogue includes findings on both moveable and immoveable items as selected for the assessment, including: object number, category (i.e. furniture, statue, architectural element, etc.), orientation within the area, materials, techniques, construction, finishes, original and current function, frequency of use, display or storage method, previous treatment, maintenance, susceptibility, visible damage, causative factors for damage, date of assessment and assessor.

To describe susceptibility and causative factors of damage, use was made of the ICN damage list created for their previous risk assessment of the museum. These risk factors are grouped by 3 risk types:

Each damage factor was then further defined by describing its nature or scenario as used in risk assessment methodology.

damage factor

In the on-site survey, of all the factors causing damage to objects that were recorded, physical forces type 3 (constant in frequency and gradual/mild in severity) proved to be the main damage factors in this museum.

These factors are directly related to the visitation of the museum and the use of the building. The factor ‘PF 3/9 inherent stress’ also ranks high and describes the damage caused by the object's own weight, construction, use of materials, and natural degradation processes such as shrinkage of wood, etc. The effect of this factor is of course enhanced by another damage factor, that of 'RH 3/1 incorrect high/low' (incorrect relative humidity).

Vulnerability of the collection (PDF, 24KB)

Baptism font just after use 11 Aug 2006.

Water damage on the communion bench (photo: P. Ryan)enlarge

water damage on the communion bench after the baptism of 11 Aug 2006.

Condition assessment discussion

Condition assessment discussion day (photo: F. Boersma)On 21 August 2006, the findings of the core team were discussed with a larger ‘resource team’, which included experts whose knowledge and expertise complemented those of the core team. The resource team consisted of (one or several) curators - including those from the museum itself - building/interior historians, conservators, conservation scientists, and building physicists. This created an opportunity to share experiences, to draw upon specialized knowledge and to discuss the complex degradation processes in a historic house museum.

Based on the information generated by the core team, the resource team investigated the susceptibility of the building, interior and collections to visitor impact (rating 1 for very vulnerable, 10 for least vulnerable). They were also asked to indicate the type of damage and its causative factor for two of the most vulnerable elements they selected.

An interesting observation from the meeting was that the term ‘damage’ was felt by some to be judgmental and some participants, especially the group discussing the ‘church in use’, felt that ‘material change’ was a more objective term. The term ‘material change’ however was perceived differently by the experts. The best example being the water stains on the communion bench, which were caused in a recent baptism. Some experts felt this added to the experience of the church in use, others however stated that the baptism font should not have been placed so close to the altar according to Catholic practice and as such this damage should not have happened.

It was almost unanimously felt that that the experience of walking and climbing through the house to find this hidden church in the attic is the most valuable asset of the museum. The signs of wear and tear and the sounds of creaking floors add strongly to this experience. In addition it was perceived that a lack of maintenance was a particularly damaging factor. What needs to be looked into more is the balancing of the replacement of original parts in a sympathetic way in order to allow visitation versus the implementation of measures of protection (e.g. covering of floors).

The use of the Church was discussed in great length. The periodic mass was believed to be adding to the value of the museum. Weddings were more of a discussion. As this is a fairly recent activity, the museum was advised to reassess if the economic benefits outweigh the disadvantages (having to close the museum for public; creation of a difficult setting to control and to keep within strict boundaries; obvious signs of damage).

© J. Paul Getty Trust / Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage / Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder