Researchers to create ‘library of historic smells’

In what has been described as a ‘breakthrough project’ the initiative will analyse the odours and their historical significance in an attempt to develop a new interpretation of the artefacts. Matija Strlic

Scientists are looking to compile an international archive of how historical objects smell.

In what has been described as a ‘breakthrough project’ the joint Polish-Slovenian initiative will analyse the odours and their historical significance in an attempt to develop a new interpretation and a new narrative to describe the artefacts.

Included in the 10 artefacts to be analysed are Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

Featuring 10 objects, which include Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with the Ermine, head conservator Elżbieta Zygier from the National Museum in Kraków said: “Institutions often perceive odours emitted by objects as unnecessary information, and even unwanted pollution.

“However, the visitors will now be able to explore the smell of historic objects in a completely new and little researched way. This really is a breakthrough project.”

Head conservator Elżbieta Zygier (LEFT) from the National Museum in Kraków said: “Visitors will now be able to explore the smell of historic objects in a completely new and little researched way. This really is a breakthrough project.”Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie

Beginning on 1 December and lasting three years, the researchers will carry out chemical analysis of volatile organic compounds emitted by the artefacts.

They will then attempt to combine the odours with the study of the objects’ history and scientifically reconstruct the smells.

Beginning on 1 December and lasting three years, the researchers will carry out chemical analysis of volatile organic compounds emitted by the artefacts.IPPR

The entire process will be documented and used to develop an archive of smells of heritage objects called ODOTHEKA.

Darko Knez from the National Museum of Slovenia said: “Smells often associated with museum objects reflect their historical use - perhaps conservation treatments, or they can simply reflect their degradation. 

“This project will allow us to examine unique objects, such as the belongings of Slovenian national poet France Prešeren, and tell their story from a completely new point of view.”