When a painting or object is being closely studied, or undergoing conservation treatment, modern scientific methods are always an important support. As part of our work as conservators/restorers we often team up with conservation scientists all over the world to investigate works of art using advanced. This can provide information about authenticity and attribution, as well as insight into the artists’ techniques.
With many projects, prior to starting we interrogate works of art by looking at them under the microscope and by using non-invasive analytical and imaging techniques. The human eye is a powerful analytical tool, so looking at the work of art with the naked eye and under a microscope, still gives much information. In some cases, important questions cannot be answered by these techniques alone, so minute micro-samples are taken from the artifact using surgical tools. Much information can be sought from these tiny, precious fragments. Powerful microscopes, and chemical analysis of minute samples of paint, give information on the pigments and materials used to create a painting, and the layer structures involved. X-radiography and infrared reflectography can expose the artist’s preliminary workings beneath the paint surface, which often reveals their early thinking.
In this collective detective work, clues about the artists, their technique, and changes that would have occurred over time are uncovered, bringing us closer to artists and their creations. This information not only contributes to the interpretation of art and artifacts, but also assists in the development and evaluation of conservation and restoration treatment plan and enriches the understanding of the nature and behaviour of the materials from which the works of art are made.
Technical art research sees an artwork as a physical object: it studies the materials, techniques and production methods that went into its making, as well as artist’s reflections on the process of creation. It also studies its history and provenance. Technical art research is an interdisciplinary study – its the cross-section of science and humanities in which analytical tools are employed to shed light on the creative process of the artist, from idea to the materials used to execute the artwork. Researchers from varying fields – among which art historians, conservators and conservation scientists get together to gain a thorough understanding of the physical object in terms of original intention, choice of materials and manufacturing techniques employed, as well as the context in and for which the work was created, its meaning, its state of conservation and any past restoration interventions. Much archival research is carried out to shed light on these factors, comparisons are made with other similar works of the artist or the period it was painted in. Art historical findings are compared and complimented, and placed into context with the conservators and scientists’ findings.
At Zartera we work with an international team to assist you in all of the above.