A Scientist’s Journey in the Characterization of Art

Keene State College, NH

Sponsored by the Chemistry Lyceum

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Speaker: Tom Tague, Ph.D.

Currently employed at Bruker Optics which is a large instrumentation company

Chemists role in art:

recovering stolen art, identifying/authenticating artwork, and restoration

  • Rotterdam theft would have been better investigated with modern techniques for identification of the work. This prompted further develop in the industry.

Visual Characterization of a sample:

  • Infrared spectrum is the wavelength that has high specificity and is non-destructive
    • Can be used to determine composition of substances used in a painting to determine if it is authentic, the same style and materials used in the artist’s other works.
  • Instruments that can be utilized:

“The Raman spectrum of pure water” by Bob Fosbury (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Hueco Tanks:

  • Caves that can be found in West Texas
  • Pictographs from 100-1450 AD, Jornada Mogollon Period.
  • It has been damaged by graffiti. How do you remove the graffiti but preserve the pictograph?
    • Laser it at wavelengths where the graffiti absorbs light but the pictograph and rocks are known not to absorb light. This is learned from doing spectroscopy analysis. X-ray fluorescence for elemental analysis.
  • Tools at site: XRF Tracer, Raman analysis tools,
  • After this project they developed a portable, smaller raman spectra tool with an IntelliTip. This device can also be used to test for narcotics.

Salvador Mundi authentication:

  • By Leonardo Di Vinci
    • There are only nine verified paintings by Di Vinci
  • Discovered in a NY family
  • Had been lost for over 250 years
  • Extensive restoration was required
  •  Cross sections (9 total) have been taken from Di Vinci works to alyze chemicals used and determine if other works could be his. They can determine artistic devices such as scratchings and marks that help achieve specific lighting. Da Vinci was also known to have inclusive particles which were used to authenticate his other works. Such an example would be his Grisaille Curls that can identified in three of his works, he was also known to do knot-work which can be seen in a micrograph of the painting. These various new techniques that have been developed by chemists have modernized the world.

Problem:  High value objects are hard to get samples of such as paintings, jewels, and cave paintings.

Solution: remote imaging- detection of the  IR spectra  using a new device. The Hi90 Imaging System with Infrared Source allows for objects to be analyzed without touching the object.

“Stepping Out” by Liechenstein: 

  • Spectroscopy analysis was used to analyze what paint and oil was used and the artist had applied it.
  • Found that the oil used in this painting, by a modern artist, was different from his other works.

Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy:

  • (SERS)
  • Addition of silver and gold to quench fluorescence and enhance the signal of the artwork.
  • This technique can be used on statues and like these other technologies, they can be applied to other fields.

Video Provided by the American Chemical Society on May 17, 2017 [1].

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2 thoughts on “A Scientist’s Journey in the Characterization of Art

    • admin says:

      I added these other sections to make my website more interessting for a larger range of people. I did not want the website to simply be about our #KSCAnimBehav class but rather a comprehensive collection of my learning. It is nowhere from complete becasue I will always be learning and sharing my new insighrs with the world. Thank-you for viewing my other blog posts that do not pertain the the class.

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