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VIDEO: Soap suds are infecting priceless oil paintings

The crux is in the chemistry.

July 16, 2018

Researchers are rushing to determine the perfect environmental conditions to prevent classic oil paintings from bubbling. But for some paintings, like “The Birth of St. John The Baptist” (circa 1506-7) by Francesco Granacci, it’s already too late. [Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art | CC0 1.0]

On the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a bubbling time bomb waits just beneath the surface of the world’s most famous oil paintings. Fatty acids in the paintings react with pigments containing heavy metals, forming soapy bubbles that distort the classic artwork. No one knows how the process starts or why only certain paintings are affected, but researchers like Silvia Centeno are racing to prevent the process from eroding more priceless works of art.

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