"Cleaning" is a process of carefully identifying the cause of any deterioration or discolouration and then removing or treating these layers. The skill of the restorer is not only to understand the techniques and media used by the artist, but also to recognize what beauty lies beneath the veils of many years of neglect or adverse conditions. Surface cleaning is then one of the most important and sometimes controversial stages of the conservation process: it is an irreversible process that generally results in substantial physical changes of the object surface, raising thus a series of questions regarding aesthetics, the potential loss of historical information, and the ability to control the cleaning process adequately. Decisions have to be made regarding partial or complete removal of varnish: technical considerations include selection of a method that allows a great deal of control in the cleaning process, so that undesired layers can be removed without damaging the underlying ones by means of traditional cleaning methods, including mechanical or chemical removal. In this work we present a study of the optical properties of painting surfaces for the characterization of the cleaning process. Analyses were carried out by means of laser micro-profilometry and confocal microscopy. Measurements were carried out on a few paintings which are under repair at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence.
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