Art analysed with new laser technique
Precious works of art in need of preservation or authentication could in future be studied using a new laser technique, developed by a collaboration of UK and Italian scientists, that can analyse layers of paint without causing any damage to the object itself. This new technique will be of real benefit to curators of cultural heritage who need to preserve and authenticate precious works of art without harming them.
The technique uses laser light to probe through the surface layers to examine the chemical composition of the paint layers beneath. A small number of photons (light ‘particles’) will scatter back with changed colour, according to the different paint components they represent, allowing the scientists to analyse the chemical composition of artwork in depth.
This new approach, known as ‘micro-SORS’, is derived from a technique called Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS). Crucially, the technique can identify any areas of decay in the materials beneath the paint, and also pinpoint any earlier conservation work that may have been carried out.
The researchers took tiny flakes of paint from murals and sculptures depicting the life of Christ, which are housed in devotional chapels in Northern Italy. Known as Sacred Mounts, these chapels were built several centuries ago and are currently undergoing restoration.
Major step forward for Cultural Heritage
This is a major step forward in developing this new technology for the conservation of artwork, where no effective tools for facilitating this analysis presently exist.
The development of micro-SORS combines traditional SORS with microscopy concepts, enabling deeper accessibility than has been possible before. The performance of the prototype exceeded our expectations and promises multiple applications outside of Cultural Heritage, including biology, forensics, polymer sciences and manufacture quality control.
The team hopes to eventually be able to test precious works of art without needing to take samples.