Ceiling wall paintnigs
Ceiling wall paintnigs, Glanshammars kyrka, Sweden
Photo: Austin Nevin

A critical assessment of Wall Painting Conservation in Sweden

Research project

Short description

The research project is funded by the Swedish National Heritage Board between between 2020-2021 and investigates the needs for holistic wall painting conservation of public and private wall paintings in Sweden. A multi-disciplinary team (art historians, conservators and conservation scientists) including Art Conservators and Conservation Scienctists (University of Gothenburg), Art Historians (Univeristy of Uppsala and University of Stockholm), national and international experts and will study holistically: Medieval Church paintings Social art, contemporary Street art and graffiti. The aim of the project is to define a research agenda to unite conservation practice with a broad set of the artistic and scientific questions that relate to the sustainable conservation of paintings, their value and perception.


The multi-disciplinary research project will bring together policy makers, museums, conservators, art historians and scientists to investigate the sustainable conservation and digital documentation of Sweden's wall paintings. The aim of the project is to define a holistically-based research agenda to unite conservation practice with a broad set of the artistic and scientific questions that relate to the sustainable conservation of paintings, their value and perception.The project will examine current practice in Sweden and the state of the art beyond and establish future needs for the profession to ensure sustainable conservation based on minimal intervention.


Despite extensive research on contemporary conservation practice, research and methodologies for the conservation of extensive wall paintings in Sweden has not developed, as highlighted during expert meetings ( and no specific training for wall painting conservators is offered in Sweden. Today there is a need for a holistic approach to both research and conservation practice, as highlighted in the Byggnadsanknuten offentlig konst–Kunskapshöjande insatser för förvaltning av den offentliga konsten som del av kulturmiljön(2019).

A predominant focus of current research and practice in wall painting conservation is maintenance. High-risk treatments including cleaning or consolidation are carried out without sufficient provision for technical and art historical research, assessments of value and perception, or documentation and scientific analysis.


The purpose of the project is to improve wall painting conservation by identifying future research needs and by proposing recommendations for the development of the field towards understanding both past and present condition of paintings. In the European context, preventive and multi-disciplinary approaches dominate wall painting conservation, but worldwide wall paintings are disappearing. Research will investigate the decision-making processes adopted in wall painting practice in Sweden. Critical for conservation is the multi-disciplinary dialogue between historians, conservators and heritage scientists. The aim of the project is to define a holistically-based research agenda to unite and improve conservation practice with a broad set of the artistic and scientific questions that relate to the sustainable conservation of paintings and broad understanding of their significance.

The project will focus on case studies of Swedish wall paintings in different contexts (ranging from Church paintings, Museum collections at the Lund University Historical Museum, archives of Social Art, Contemporary paintings and Street art). Case studies will profile common and specific conservation issues, preventive measures and key scientific questions for future research. The project will involve the examination of paintings by a group of experts, stake holders and conservators. An international seminar at the end of the project will present the results ofinterdisciplinary studies in a series of papers that will be published. The outcome of the seminar would be an articulated contemporary statement that would identify future research in wall painting conservation, encompassing physical/conservation/art history and heritage science, and will raise the profile of the field.

Research on the reception and history of the extensive wall paintings in Sweden is scarce, yet wall paintings are an important and common heritage at risk. Wall paintings are often in unprotected spaces, and are particularly susceptible to climate change and increased moisture fluctuations. The materials used in wall paintings are diverse (ranging from lime to spray paint). A major factor that places wall paintings at risk is the lack of clear ownership. Paintings on walls often fall between the traditional confines of buildings, museums, archaeological sites or the landscapes, yet can be found in each. With the secularization and the re-use of ecclesiastic heritage, immovable wall paintings are left without congregations, they may be found detached from their original location in a museum, or on public streets or parks. Remedial treatment rather than conservation of wall paintings is a worrying focus, with only sporadic attention to technical and historical investigations. Research has predominantly focused on accessibly, digitisation and appearance. This project will map the needs for specific and future holistic research on wall paintings. Key issues relate to heritage management for wall painting conservation, and the identification of risks related to the rapid transformation of stakeholders in the management process. The project relates to the governmental report "Det kyrkliga kulturarvet(Regeringens skrivelse2018/19:122)" as well as "Värdet av ett kyrkligt kulturarv Kyrkoantikvarisk ersättning 2002–2018" in that we are using case studies of wall paintings that have been conserved within the framework of funding by KAE the last twenty years. This project will exemplify and outline future approaches for integral and holistic research on artistic heritage and conservation management – that is still is less-developed in comparison with overall cultural heritage management and research that are extensive in Sweden.

Previous work in Sweden on wall paintings highlighted the need for a holistic approach for wall painting conservation, bringing together expertise in art history and heritage science, which is a consolidated field in other countries and has recently gained interest in Sweden. Research coordinated by the Getty Conservation Institute (a partner in this project) on Wall Paintings worldwide, and including the Organic Materials in Wall Paintings project, highlights how important their detection and identification is for planning conservation. Research in Denmark is advanced, and the project on Danish Wall Paintings, hosted by the National Museum of Denmark was awarded a Europa Nostra Prize in 2018.

Expected Results

Extensive research has been carried out on the processes that have led to the transformation of churches (see Alla dessa kyrkor: Kulturvård, religion och politik, Hillström, Lofgren and Wettenberg 2017) but research is missing on the effect of changes in ownership on artistic heritage like wall paintings, that are of high cultural value. This project will provide stakeholders a clearly articulated perspective and would seek deeper knowledge into the effects of the discrepancies of stakeholder involvement and decision making in the conservation management of wall paintings that, in Sweden, has led to the domination of a private market and frequent remedial treatments (cleaning and consolidation) without routine investigations, examination and documentation. The project will provide a clear assessment of the needs for conservation of wall paintings as a developing field in Sweden would include questions related to documentation and inventories of wall paintings, as well as critical aspects for future education of conservators. Needs for research and development will also be identified, especially in relation to the study of reception, digital reconstruction and new avenues for research in art history and scientific study of wall paintings.


Stavroula Golfomitsou

External members:

Henrik Widmark

Johan Eriksson

Jacob Kimvall

Anna Henningsson

Margarete Ståhl