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(Chem) Spectroscopy and Art

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Anthony Kammerich

PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:46 pm    Post subject: (Chem) Spectroscopy and Art Reply with quote

The use of Raman spectroscopy to catch art forgeries
by Anthony Kammerich, Georgetown University
15 December 2006

When people start thinking about art they usually start thinking about beautiful paintings or the wide range of colors but I bet that few think of spectroscopy. This is because most people do not know the increasingly important role that spectroscopy is playing in the art world.

Individuals and art galleries regularly pay millions of dollars for paintings by famous artists. The problem arises in that with that much money being exchanged that there is always someone trying to get some of this money dishonestly. Forgers are continually improving their techniques and making harder for buyers to tell is what they are getting is actually what they have paid for.

So the question becomes how do we verify that a painting is authentic? This is harder than it sounds since the forgers have gotten so advance that simple looking at a painting or even shinning UV light on a painting will not allow us to tell. This was the exact problem researchers as University College London had to face when they were asked to verify that a painting titled Young Woman Seated at a Virginal was actually painted by the artist Vermeer. The answer they came up with was to go high tech and use Raman spectroscopy to examine the painting.

This method has a lot of aspects that make it ideal for analyzing paintings. The main advantage is that it does not require that a sample be removed from the painting. The Raman instrument can be placed immediately over top the painting leaving the painting untouched and completely unharmed. This is because it works by measuring the polarizability of a molecule using a laser.

What did the Raman spectrometry results tell them? It helped them identify exactly what pigments were used to make the colors seen in the painting. This was done by comparing the spectra to know spectra of pigment compounds. They could then compare these results to the results of pigments used in paintings known to be by the artist to see if they were constant with the types that he used. They could also compare the pigments used to pigments used in different time periods to confirm that the painting was from the time period that the artist lived.

Since Raman is relatively new method as far as its application to art is concerned these researchers used a variety of other techniques to support their findings on the Raman Spectrometer.

What they found is that their results were consistent with the time period in which Vermeer lived and with the types of paints he used. Unfortunately this is not enough to say conclusively that this painting was painted by him. It is only enough to say that it most likely was.


Burgio, L; Clark, R; Sheldon, L.; Smith, G. “Pigment Identification by Spectroscopic Means: Evidence Consistent with the Attribution of the Painting Young Woman Seated at a Virginal to Vermeer.” Analytical Chemistry 77, 1261-1267


Questions to explore further this topic:

What are pigments?

What is spectroscopy?

What is UV Spectroscopy?

What is Raman Spectroscopy?

Ways spectroscopy has been used in the world of art.

Chemistry and Art

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Joined: 06 Jul 2005
Posts: 5060
Location: Angel C. de Dios

PostPosted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 7:34 am    Post subject: Mystery of Madonna and Child Painting Solved Reply with quote

Mystery of Madonna and Child Painting Solved

By Corey Binns
Special to LiveScience
posted: 13 February 2007
09:00 am ET

Chemists have solved a 20-year mystery surrounding the date of a Madonna and Child painting, the "de Brecy Tondo," painted by an as-yet unidentified artist.

However, a debate continues as to who painted the "de Brecy Tondo," which looks suspiciously similar to the "Sistine Madonna," painted by the renowned Italian Renaissance artist Raphael.

Howell Edwards, a specialist in Raman spectroscopy at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, used laser-based technology to detect yellow pigments and glue typical of the Renaissance period, which dates the painting between the 14th and 16th centuries.

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