Art & Science

The scientific investigation of works of art is an emerging field fundamental to the intellectual understanding and preservation of our cultural heritage. It draws together disciplines including art history, conservation and conservation science as well as more conventional aspects of analytical and theoretical science.

Scientific techniques are used to examine objects in order better to understand those techniques and materials available to, and used by, artists and craftsmen. This increases our knowledge of the historical, social and economic production of art and artefacts as well as being crucial to the accurate dating of many objects. Further, this scientific research develops our understanding of the ways in which these objects deteriorate, making it vital in developing best practice for handling objects, their conservation and preservation treatment. The study of historical pigments is an indispensable part of this.

The compilation of a complete picture of artists or craftsmen’s technical practices will greatly increase our understanding of them, the objects they produce and their socio-economic context, allowing us to determine not only why objects may be deteriorating or how we might restore them but also how these artisans worked, what influences they might have had on others, what social or trade influences there were on the materials available, what innovative pigment manufacture existed or, finally, whether a certain work might be of a particular date, by that particular artist or possibly a fake. This sort of research is not only confined to fine art of course, but is also relevant to painted surfaces from prehistoric cave paintings through Roman furniture, steam engines and modern interiors to paintings by contemporary artists.

We have developed a database which will underpin the high quality research currently being carried out by major museums and conservation departments in universities, providing comparative analytical results from the sophisticated range of techniques now finding use within the art research and conservation fields.

The Pigment Compendium will provide much needed information to enable scientists, art historians, conservators and forensic specialists to identify historical pigments, acting as an authoritative and comprehensive source of data for professionals, such a resource being seriously needed in this field. Powerful software tools will be built into the database that will aid not only the experts but also the non-specialist practitioners in the field to identify materials accurately and place them in a proper historical perspective.

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