History of Art


HART0202 – Scientific Analysis of Artists’ Materia' - Indicative Weekly Topics and Suggested Reading

Most cultural institutions around the world are now equipped with scientific laboratories whose technology is constantly evolving, as is their role within the institution. This module centres around the analytical techniques most employed to analyse museum collections, with particular emphasis on paintings, illuminated manuscripts and other works of art on paper. After learning the chemistry behind painting and writing supports, pigments and dyes, students will become familiar with the most common invasive and non-invasive techniques to characterise them. How do x-ray or electron-based techniques work? What information can each technique provide, and how can this be contextualised historically? Furthermore, how can different techniques complement each other in addressing historical questions? Likewise, the course will address broader ethical and methodological questions involved in the material analysis of museum collections: how should an analytical method be chosen? What purposes can scientific analyses have beyond conservation and attribution?

Weekly Topics

Week 1: Introduction to the course. Organic and inorganic materials. The electromagnetic spectrum. Technical Art History and Heritage Science.

Week 2: How is a painting made? The analysis of paintings with visible, infrared and ultraviolet light.

Week 3: Painting cross-sections: how are they prepared? Optical Microscopy and electron microscopy for the analysis of painting cross-sections. Metal soaps.

Week 4: Pigments and Dyes – From Antiquity to the 18th century. FORS and illuminated manuscripts.

Week 5: Pigments and Dyes after the Industrial Revolution. XRF and hand-coloured prints.

Week 6: Student’s presentations. Organic pigments and mass spectrometry.

Week 7: Vibrational spectroscopies: FTIR and Raman.

Week 8: Practice in the MAT Laboratory: XRF and/or Raman.

Week 9: Sharing science with Museum Visitors. MA-XRF and HSI.

Week 10: Exam.

Summer reading

J.M. Madariaga, Analytical Strategies for Cultural Heritage Materials and their Degradation, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021.