Material analyses of "Christ with singing and music-making Angels", a late 15th-C panel painting attributed to Hans Memling and assistants : part 1 : non-invasive in situ investigations
Faculty of Sciences. Chemistry
Journal of analytical atomic spectrometry. - London
, p. 2216-2229
University of Antwerp
In cultural heritage science, compositional data is traditionally obtained from works of art through the analysis of samples by means of various bench-top instruments (scanning electron microscope, Raman spectrometer, etc.). Alternatively, the object can be transported to a laboratory where it may be examined, usually by spectroscopic methods working in reflection mode. However, this paper describes how a complementary set of mobile and portable instruments was deployed in situ to gain a comprehensive view on the materials and related ageing compounds of an (almost) unmovable 15th-C polyptych, prior to and in preparation of the extraction of a limited number of samples. In line with the methodological approach discussed, PXRF was first employed as an efficient screening tool. The ensuing elemental data was supplemented by more specific information on both organic as inorganic materials supplied by reflection near- and mid-FTIR spectroscopy and fluorimetry. In completion, a limited number of diffraction patterns were collected with a mobile XRD instrument in order to identify the constituent crystalline phases in pigments, grounding materials and degradation products. In this way, it could be demonstrated how a rich array of colours was obtained by means of a limited palette of pigments: lead white, lead tin yellow, azurite, natural ultramarine, bone black, vermillion, madder lake, and a green copper-organo complex were detected and situated on the panels. Remarkably, next to chalk also gypsum was found in the ground layer(s) of this Western European easel painting. The relatively large surface of the background was covered with gold leaf; the analyses seem to point towards the labour-intensive water gilding technique. The versatility of this combination of analytical techniques was further illustrated by the accurate characterisation of degradation products affecting the readability and conservation of the painting: the overall presence of a calcium oxalate-based film of variable thickness was established. Nevertheless, further analysis of cross-sectioned samples was considered desirable in order to study the stratigraphy, to gain direct access to altered and sub-imposed layers and to allow highly detailed analysis of micrometric degradation products by state-of-the art techniques (i.e. synchrotron radiation).