Soiling deposition and wrong conservation practices are among the causes of the decay process that can affect the morphological, mechanical, and compositional features of the varnish, the most exposed layer of an artefact. In this perspective, the identification of the best cleaning practices is a priority. During the 18th century, scientific instruments of the highest quality were built, and peculiar varnishes were produced to confer protection and elegance to their metal elements. For this study, based on a historical recipe, we have reproduced a peculiar spirit varnish, enriched with natural resins and colorants, and we have applied on it a synthetic soiling mixture to simulate the aging conditions. We have then performed a non-invasive multi-analytical study to monitor the effectiveness of two water-based and a silicone-based, cleaning methods, namely, water in agarose, Tween 20 (3%) in agarose, and Velvesil Plus. The study includes colorimetry, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) mapping, coupled with chemometrics. Principal component analysis applied to FTIR spectral data has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool to enhance weak variations in the IR spectra, empowering the interpretation of cleaning effect versus the application time of each cleaning test.
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