“Aglaé” or cutting-edge technology on behalf of heritage

Published in the dossier of July 2019

Its stones are over nine centuries old and it is home to works that have been around for millennia, but this doesn’t mean that the Louvre museum isn’t fully in step with the 21st century. As demonstrated by the Aglaé (Accélérateur Grand Louvre d’Analyses Élémentaires) particle accelerator. Inaugurated in 1989 and upgraded to “New Aglaé” with the “Equipment of Excellence” label in 2017, this one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art instrument makes it possible to study works of art and antiques without damaging them. A particle accelerator that propels ions onto works of art at 20,000 kilometers per second, Aglaé seems to belong more to the realm of science fiction than museology. These ions interact with the material, giving rise to luminous radiation that varies depending on the type of atoms present. Researchers can thus explore the upper layers of the objects studied in detail, identifying not only their chemical nature but also their location. Statues, paintings and other works of art still have secrets to reveal...


Christophe Petit-Tesson got his passion for photography from his father. His hobby became a profession at the age of 25, after working in a Parisian photo laboratory. Originally self-taught, he subsequently trained at the Iris center for photography. A press photographer for twenty years, he regularly travels to Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Kurdistan and Iraq.

Christophe Petit-Tesson: reportage first and foremost

The Louvre, its paintings, sculptures, atmospheric age-old stones… and state-of-the-art analytical devices! It was this contrast between the past and modernity, art and technology that fascinated Christophe Petit-Tesson during his report on the Accélérateur Grand Louvre d’Analyses Élémentaires (Aglaé) in the museum’s basement. “You go down hidden little corridors, like in a mysterious den with a concealed door, and arrive bang in the 21st century in a room with machines and pipes,” he recalls.

At the Louvre, he appreciated working with researchers and technicians. Some study Roman statuettes. The inspection is so advanced that it reveals what quarries the stones come from. In other laboratories, paintings are analyzed using a raking blue light to discover if the painting conceals another one. To reflect the studious mood of the setting in his photos, Christophe Petit-Tesson works using natural light, occasionally relying on a simple flash.

“I like to shoot in reportage mode, without reworking the light,” he states. “I want to be aesthetic without being artistic. I want to bear witness, convey the subject with my sensibility, but without transforming it.”

While reportage is his trademark, his subjects vary widely. They are sometimes scientific, like this report on Aglaé or the one he has just finished on the Sanctuary project, which involves sending knowledge and works engraved on sapphire disks to the moon. But he remains first and foremost a generalist press photographer, covering a wide range of topics from the conflict in the Middle East through sports to French politics.