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Saturday, December 16, 2017

New Way to Look at Old Paintings: Have X-Rays, Will Travel

The original painting "Pauline in a white dress in front of a summery tree scenery," often attributed to Phillip Otto Runge. The original painting "Pauline in a white dress in front of a summery tree scenery," often attributed to Phillip Otto Runge. CREDIT: Matthias Alfeld

A technique for peering under the surface of classic paintings came with a risk: The old, precious artwork had to be removed and transported through changing environments to the machine that would bombard it with X-rays.

A new mobile scanning device is sparing art lovers from a potential heart attack by allowing scientists to examine a painting right where it hangs. The new scanner already has led to surprising revelations about how the Old Masters went about their work, scientists announced yesterday (March 29) at the American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Finding long-hidden layers and changes made to the art is like watching over the artist's shoulder as he paints, said study author Matthias Alfeld, of the University of Antwerp in Belgium. "It says something about the history of the painting and about the surrounding of the artist when he worked," Alfeld told LiveScience.

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The technique is called scanning macro X-ray fluorescence analysis. Alfeld and his colleagues used it on more than 20 paintings from the 16th through the 19th centuries, including works by Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Rubens.

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