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Proceedings Paper

Microscopical examination of art and archeological objects
Author(s): Walter McCrone
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Paper Abstract

The light microscope, using only photons rather than electrons as an imaging medium, is demonstrably the single most useful tool for the authentication of art and archeological objects. It is the only technique able to identify all paint media, pigments, and supports. With the identity of these components and their known dates of first use, the microscope establishes the earliest possible date for that object. Microscopy reveals the molecular identity rather than the elemental content of each of the components. Elemental analysis, by any other means, would not differentiate between many pigments that have similar compositions, e.g., iron earths (Fe2O3(DOT)nH2O), red lead (Pb3O4), and massicot (PbO) or litharge (PbO), chromium oxide (Cr2O3) and viridian (Cr2O3(DOT)2H2O), alizarin and madder (both 1,2-dihydroxy anthraquinone), three forms of calcite (CaCO3), three forms of vermilion (HgS), etc. X-ray diffraction can identify only crystalline compounds and is useless for alizarin, madder, prussian blue, cobalt blue, smalt, carbon black, charcoal, van dyke brown and iron earths other than hematite. Infrared absorption requires highly skilled analysts and can't readily detect zinc white, massicot, or litharge or other diatomic molecules.

Paper Details

Date Published: 25 May 1998
PDF: 9 pages
Proc. SPIE 3315, Scientific Detection of Fakery in Art, (25 May 1998); doi: 10.1117/12.308584
Show Author Affiliations
Walter McCrone, McCrone Research Institute (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 3315:
Scientific Detection of Fakery in Art
Walter McCrone; Duane R. Chartier; Richard J. Weiss, Editor(s)

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