Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Science of Art

Okay, so I may be a bit of an art nut, but I think others will find this just as fascinating as I do. Joris Dik, a materials scientist from Delft University, and Koen Janssens, a chemist from the University of Antwerp in Belgium, have engineered an incredible technique to uncover the paintings under paintings.

Many artists struggled financially during their lifetime, and canvas was expensive, so it was not uncommon for a used canvas to be painted white so that a new work could be painted on it. Van Gogh was one such struggling artist, in fact, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. Art historians believe that nearly one-third of Van Gogh's paintings hide a second painting underneath, but until now, the technology for truly "seeing" the hidden paintings has not been available.

Dik and Janssens' technique employs high-intensity X-rays from a particle accelerator to map out the metallic atoms underneath. Art experts know which pigments contain which metals, and so, the colors of the image underneath can be charted out and seen virtually. More on the story can be read here. Dik and Janssens' paper was published today in the online edition of Analytical Chemistry.

Science is absolutely incredible. Now, the law will have to figure out what to do with the copyrightability of such an image!


Anonymous said...

This is great for us, but it may have poor Van Gogh spinning in his grave (with a pronounced wobble due to his one missing ear).

What we are looking at is something which, whether or not economics factored into the decision, was thought worthy of obliteration by the artist.

What we can hope for now is for something truly inappropriate to be discovered via this method.

Kelly J. Bozanic said...

It really is an interesting thought experiment. If we think of the image in terms of property, is it abandoned? Many great artists did not intend to have their works disseminated. Kafka, for example, instructed his friends to destroy his works. Had those instructions been followed, we wouldn't have his contributions to literature.

Anonymous said...

The greatest what if in artistic history, and maybe in all of history, is What if Hitler had found success as an artist in Vienna?

The truly galling thing is that in the last century up to the present day all kinds of preternaturally untalented folks have found fame through 'art'. In retrospect, Hitler is one we should have thrown a bone to.