Leonardo Da Vinci (University of California Museum of Paleontology)
Leonardo Da Vinci (University of California Museum of Paleontology)University of California Museum of Paleontology

The self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci, which was declared as "damaged beyond repair" by scientists around two years ago, has been handed new hope.

Da Vinci's sketch, which is 1,500 years old, is considered either a self-portrait, or an illustration of his father or uncle. It was drawn with red chalk on paper, made of cotton fibers, linen and hemp cloth. 

Over the years, the humid and high temperature storage conditions have led to the accumulation of blotches, spots, fungi and browning of the portrait, thus reducing the visibility of the sketch and putting it in danger.

Also, the work was on display for the public during the 20th century, which resulted in the development of yellowish shade on it.

The iconic piece is currently stored in a humidity and temperature-controlled room in Italy's Royal Library, to prevent further damage caused from light.

However, researchers have now developed a non-destructive technology that will help protect the self-portrait. A team of scientists from Poland and Italy, using their skills in paper degradation mechanisms, determined that if the degradation process can be slowed down with the help of suitable conservation methods.

"We were able to eval­u­ate the state of de­grada­t­ion of Leonardo da Vin­ci's self-portrait and oth­er pa­per spec­i­mens from an­cient books dat­ing from the 15th cen­tu­ry. By com­par­ing the re­sults of an­cient pa­pers with those of ar­ti­fi­cially aged sam­ples, we gained sig­nif­i­cant in­sights in­to the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions in which Leonardo da Vin­ci's self-portrait was stored dur­ing its life­time," Huffinton Post quoted Adri­ano Mosca Conte, a re­search­er at the Uni­vers­ity of Rome Tor Ver­gata.

The team of researchers studied and compared the self-portrait with other pieces done in different eras using different papers.

"The sadly poor state of preservation that characterizes Leonardo's self-portrait today is the result of the inappropriate conditions in which it was historically stored. Unfortunately, a lack of sufficient knowledge, both physical and chemical, of the mechanisms responsible for paper degradation prevented good conservation strategies from being adopted in the past," reads the study.

"Our non-destructive and non-invasive diagnostic method provides a quantification of this priceless artwork's present state of optical degradation. A periodic repetition of the same analysis not only would provide an ongoing quantitative assessment of its rate of degradation (and therefore an estimation of its 'life expectancy') but also increase our understanding of the inevitable degradation processes that are underway. Needless to say, such information is invaluable to restorers and conservators," it added.

Chromophores are vital in understanding the visual degradation process because they are among the chemical products which are developed by oxidation during the ageing process and are responsible for the yellowish tinge within the cellulose.

Also, by determining the extent of damage, it will be easier for the preservationists to find out ways in preventing the fading portrait. The knowledge can also help in preserving similar ancient art works.

Photo credit: University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP)