Hygro-mechanical short-term behaviour of selected coatings: experiments and material modelling on vapour permeability and mechanical properties

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Many pieces of fine art are made of wood that has been treated with coatings. Since wood is a very hygroscopic material, the moisture content strongly influences the deformation of wooden parts. Coatings often act as moisture barriers. Therefore, the moisture permeability of coatings must be considered for the evaluation of the structural behaviour. The mechanical properties are also relevant to evaluate the deformation of thin artwork like panel paintings as well as the damage of paintings and varnishes. Therefore, the mechanical properties and the permeability of selected coatings used for cultural wooden artwork are investigated and presented in the article at hand. In this study, coatings of three artworks are investigated: a Lusatian cupboard from the eighteenth century, an altarpiece by L. Cranach the Elder and a Russian icon from 1912. The coatings considered are white ground, colours, varnishes, glue and textile reinforced sizing. Mechanical tests are conducted to evaluate the stiffness and tensile strength of the Russian icon’s coating. Cup tests are made to identify the moisture permeability of the coatings. This test was conducted for single coatings as well as for coating systems consisting of different coatings to investigate both the moisture barrier of single coatings and the interaction of coatings. Exponential functions for the relative humidity-dependent permeability are fitted based on the experimental data. The results allow the quantification of permeability for all investigated coatings—from white ground with a high permeability to beeswax with a low permeability—and the magnitude of moisture dependency of the coating’s permeability. Furthermore, it is shown that the simple addition of the water vapour resistance of single coatings underrates the resistance of a total coating system. By the mechanical tests, the strength, ultimate strain and Young’s modulus are obtained. The permeability and the mechanical parameters are required as input for numerical simulations of the structural behaviour of coated wooden artwork. These results are a good step forward to assess the risk of damage of coated wooden artwork.


Original languageEnglish
Article number141
JournalHeritage Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022

External IDs

Scopus 85137799376
unpaywall 10.1186/s40494-022-00768-5
Mendeley 4fd61584-5819-3582-8b31-a40e7f50818d
ORCID /0000-0001-5522-611X/work/142245844
ORCID /0000-0002-6612-1249/work/142250926



  • Water vapour permeability, Material modelling, Moisture, Water vapour resistance, Coating, Cup test, Furniture, Paint, Tensile strength, Panel painting