Vials containing the fragrance of Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine, Source: Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie / Twitter

Library of heritage smells: Krakow's new approach to preserving the past

Library of heritage smells: Krakow's new approach to preserving the past

Have you ever wondered what an old and famous painting smells like?

The modern idea of what a library is keeps expanding and getting ever more creative. The latest case in point is the first-ever “library of heritage smells”, created by the National Museum of Krakow (Poland). The intriguing project seeks to remind people that we interact with the world, and by extension with heritage, also by using our sense of smell. And just like preserving the composition, colours and textures of old artefacts is important, so is conserving the way they smell, as this can fade away.

The initiative, called Odotheka, is actually a partnership between Krakow’s National Museum and Ljubljana’s National Museum of Slovenia. It has been in development for the past three years trying to find the best ways to preserve olfactory information and its significance for the interpretation of historical objects.

Ljubljana’s National Museum of Slovenia forms part of the initiative, too

For this purpose, 10 historical artefacts (five from each of the museums) will have their smells archived. These include the works of famous Polish painters and the snuffbox of one of Slovenia’s national poets.

The fragrance is a compilation of information about the painting – its technique, history and conservation materials,” Elżbieta Zygier, chief curator of the National Museum in Kraków, told broadcaster TVN.

However, the very first item to undergo the process of extracting its scent for posterity was a rather famous Renaissance painting – Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, which is in possession of the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow. Apparently, it smells of walnut wood panels, paint and varnish.

The process of extracting the first scent took nine months, during which it was collected from the surface of the painting and tested in a laboratory. Using advanced measuring equipment as well as their own sense of smell, scientists were able to separate the compounds making up the scent and name them.

The aim is to add another dimension when exhibiting artefacts so that people will also be able to enjoy their fragrance, something that will be of particular importance to visually impaired museum visitors.



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