Earth Science and Modern-Contemporary Art: fingerprints for the safeguard of artworks in view of fine arts transportation

Lisa Volpe


One of the most important problem of artwork's uniqueness is related to the handling of the works for exhibitions around the world and the risks linked to this aspect (counterfeiting, etc.). With the diffusion of non-invasive methodologies in Cultural Heritage field, the historicalartistic- stylistic studies, designed for false artworks’ identification, are increasingly followed by chemical and spectrographic analyzes that allow material characterization of support and painting, underlining the important role of pigments considered "dating pigment ". Structural and texture elements of pictorial surface, painting support and chemical-mineralogical composition of pigments could be consider like “element of uniqueness” for the studied artwork. A map of these elements, that should be fundamental to writing the “condition report”, is very useful to control artwork during its movement for art-exhibition, to reduce risks of substitutions (counterfeiting, etc.) and to verify the dawning of damage phenomena in order to project suitable prevention plans. The knowledge of some artworks’ characteristics, difficult to reproduce and that are punctual placed, allows to identify uniqueness feature of artworks (like fingerprint) and to control its identity during movement phase. Further to textural characteristic (brushstroke direction, craquelures geometry, distribution and thickness of pictorial layer, pentimenti, support, kind of canvas fibers, etc.), the chemical-mineralogical of pigments could be applied to support identification of false artwork or ancient copies: finding pigment which utilization period is well known (i.e. initial use: first commercial introduction or pigment patent, etc.; final use: replaced pigment for its toxicity, etc.) permits to hypothesize proposal “post-quem” date of painting. In this way, identification of these characteristic, belonging to dating pigment, represents fundamental reference for dating actions. However, the limits of this application is linked to modern and contemporary art: if the painting was made simultaneously to commercial entry of this dating pigment, it will be difficult to distinguish if that painting is original or if it is a copy or fake. Then considering that many artificial pigments are used in restoration field, before carrying out chemical analysis, it suggests to verify if the region of interest do not present restoration act; in this way it is more easy to avoid a wrong interpretation of analyzed paintings. In spite of the important role that dating pigment have in identification studies, the complexity of color pigment and the size of pigment particles could create some problems from analytical point of view; for these reason, the research focus its attention then to look for more appropriate methodologies. This research belongs to this cognitive path in which Earth Science know-how will be transferred to Cultural Heritage domain. The current study focuses its attention to the identification of these characteristics (film thickness pictorial peculiarities of artistic technique, mapping of the distribution of the different pigments on medium, restoration, structural and material characteristics, etc.), selecting analytical methods, that will be less invasive and more appropriate according to possibility to move artwork. Earth Science approach demonstrates to be very useful especially for the White Titanium Oxide pigment in which, the identification of Rutile or Anatase phase helped in proposal dating of an analyzed painting. The identification of these “art-fingerprints” at microscopic level is tested both on pictorial specimens taken from painting made by national and international artist (J.S. Sargent, P. Picasso, A. Modigliani) both on entire painting with dubious dating or artist attribution (G. Boldini, F. De Pisis). Considering the uniqueness of analyzed paintings and samples, the analytical procedure begins using non-invasive techniques (for painting painting) and it finishes carrying out nondestructive analysis in order to preserve samples for further analysis. In conclusion, the research is useful also to evaluate conservative condition and materials composition in support to maintenance-restoration actions and dating purpose, but also it could be applied in assurance policy (uniqueness art-fingerprint), i.e. nails to nails policy, painting’s during movement for art-exhibition.

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ISSN: 1974-918X