Contributors: Will Sassorossi
Having a quality of easily breaking, being damaged or destroyed. Having hardness or rigidity but lacking in tensile strength. Can be unstable or impermanent (, 2013). Tending to break readily with comparatively smooth fracture (Art and Architecture online 2013).
brittleness, brittled, brittlest; fragile, friable
Synonyms in English
Brittle is a term used to help describe the condition an object may be in or characteristics an object displays. In conservation, understanding if an object has this quality will ultimately help to determine how it can be successfully treated. The treatment process will help restore the object or prevent it from possible further deterioration. Objects of different make up will display different properties of brittleness, but essentially, all brittle objects are fragile and must be handled properly to ensure the safety of the object. A paper object that is brittle may respond differently than a brittle leather object, and will have different protocol for handling and treatment.
Leather is an organic object and can provide challenges for a conservator. The goal for leather as well as with other organic material is to help restore some of the flexibility it once contained (Hamilton 2013). Some objects can be degraded and will need a certain substance to help provide for stronger fiber structures. Organic objects could be placed in a substance including a humectant. Humectants act on the fibers by increasing the moisture content around the cells of the fibers and in turn make the overall cell structure stronger (Florian 1990). The object takes on added moisture and this man remedy the brittleness of the object. For a paper object that is brittle, a different process is necessary.
A paper object that is brittle may have been stored improperly or folded in a certain way that would cause breaking if not opened carefully. In this case, by humidifying the paper and adding moisture in a controlled way will allow the document fibers to relax. At this point, the paper can be unfolded. To help with further conservation, the paper is then pressed and the moisture removed. By flattening and applying pressure to remove moisture from the paper document, the condition of the document is improved (U.S. National Archives 2013). The brittleness of the paper document has been remedied. These are examples of types of treatment procedures that ultimately reach the desired goal of making sure brittleness has been accounted for within the conservation effort and the treatment process. Being fragile, it is essential for brittle objects to be supported in order to continue further conservation efforts.
Anonymous, 2013. “Brittle.” Art and Architecture Thesaurus Online. Los Angeles, CA: J. PaulGetty Trust. , Accessed March 18, 2013.
Florian, Mary-Lou E., Dale Paul Kronkright, Ruth E. Norton, 1990. The Conservation ofArtifacts Made From Plant Material. Getty Publications. Pages 238 – 241. , Accessed March 25, 2013.
Hamilton, Donny L., 2011. “Leather Conservation.” Conservation Research Laboratory, Texas A&M University., Accessed March 18, 2013.
Jewett, D. 1983. A glossary for recording the condition of an artifact. Ottawa : Canadian Heritage Information Network, National Museums of Canada. U.S. National Archives, 2013. “Paper Based Treatment.” U.S. National Archives at St. Louis.
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