JAIC 1984, Volume 23, Number 2, Article 7 (pp. 159 to 162)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1984, Volume 23, Number 2, Article 7 (pp. 159 to 162)


Eugene Farrell

EugeneFarrellRevue de L'Art, No. 60, Ministèere de la Recherche et de I'Industrie, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. [Review published under the aegis of the French Committee of the History of Art with the assistance of the Ministry of Culture, Edition of C.N.R.S., under the direction of Andre Chastel et al., 1983, in French.]

The Revue de L'Art is a journal which normally devotes its publications to art history. Issue number 60, however, is devoted to the role of science in art and archaeology. It is divided into four sections: a fourteen-page editorial, two studies, eight “Notes and Documents” and a summary devoted to dating methods and instrumental analysis.

The perspective and subject matter of all the articles is European with particular emphasis on the modern French contribution to science in the arts. The editorial, the “Art Object and the Laboratory,” presents us with an overview of the history of the scientific contribution to the arts from the first museum laboratory founded in 1888 at Berlin to the establishment of the Louvre Laboratory in 1931. The role of special exhibitions showing the applications of science to art and the significance of special seminars are discussed. Concern for the integrity of art objects and the need for non-destructive methods of analysis are emphasized towards the end of the editorial, and the necessity for active cooperation between the scientist and the art historian is given specific recognition. The function and brief history of the Louvre Laboratory are presented in an insert at the end of the editorial on page 7.

The next section describes twenty French laboratories which are involved with the analysis of art and archaeological objects. The listing includes titles, addresses, phone numbers, directors, the specialization of the laboratory, and a map showing their location.

The editorial section concludes with an article by Jean Taralon in which he details the “Contribution of Science to the History of Art” based on the specific experiences of the Research Laboratory of Historic Monuments. Research and analyses are described which range from pigment studies of the caves at Niaux through petrographic studies of statues on the façade of Notre-Dame-La-Grande de Poitiers to the pigment and structural analysis of the wooden sculpture of the Virgin and Child of Marpent (Nord).

The two featured articles are in the form of Studies (Ètudes) and present us with two completely different subjects: painting and the analysis of marble. The first of these is “The Contributions of Technical Examination to the History of Painting” by Paul Philippot and Catherine Perier-d'Ieteren. This study relies considerably on the authors' extensive experience in the field of Flemish painting. They begin with a brief history of scientific contributions to art analysis and divide this history into three phases culminating in a synthesis of archaeological interpretation of scientific data (which introduces time into the material data) with art criticism. The example of the cross section of a painting which reveals in its stratigraphy the chronology of its execution and, moreover, the eventual additions which constitute the work of art is given for clarification.

Illustrations emphasizing this approach are provided with different methods of examination (for example, infrared reflectography and the detection of tracings in the form of lines and pouncing). Criteria are suggested to distinguish between originals, fakes, and copies. The authors further point out that one may utilize pigment analysis or view the painting with ultraviolet, infrared, x-radiography or photography to reveal the stratigraphy, pentimenti, and underdrawings. These techniques, used by themselves or with several other methods, furnish information concerning the state of conservation, the phase of elaboration, and the technique of execution of a painting. Examples are drawn from Jan Van Eyck, Colyn de Coter, Hans Memling, Rembrandt, F. Lippi, and R. van der Weyden. The article is well-illustrated, clarifying and emphasizing many points in the text.

The article concludes with the suggestion that art historical problems are only solved by technical examination in exceptional cases but that the complementary information provides new perspectives where old techniques do not work.

The second study is “Identification of Marbles: Its Necessity, Methods and Limits” by Dario Monna, Patrizio Pensabene, and Jean-Pierre Sodini.

It is an excellent illustration of the multiple technique approach which must be taken to solve certain problems in art history or archaeology, especially with reference to provenance studies.

The discussion begins with a detailed presentation devoted to the description, location, and importance of marble in the Greek and then in the Roman and Proto-Byzantine world. Marbles were especially prized by the Romans and were imported from all over the empire. The emperors Augustus and later Tiberius, in a policy of purchase and confiscation, nationalized most of the principal quarries, so prestigious had this material become.

The sources of true marble as opposed to a variety of other ornamental stones such as breccias or serpentine are difficult and costly to locate by analytical means. Because marble is difficult to characterize, the authors have qualified the title of the paper, indicating that there is a need to specify the necessity, the methods, and the limits of what can be accomplished. The necessity stems from the importance of marble as a cultural artifact and because it is so similar from one source to another. Early efforts to identify marble sources were limited to external appearance depending on such features as color, grain size, odor, and fracture. The next step involved petrographic techniques. Calcite and dolomite as well as texture and minor mineral content could be determined and some sources specified.

Geochemistry applied the methods of emission spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence, neutron activation, and isotope ratios. Plots mapping C13 and O18 produced successes in distinguishing quarry sites in the Aegean, and the method was quite useful in correctly reassembling inscribed marbles. Electron spin resonance provided yet another method yielding some success especially in samples where both calcite and dolomite were present.

The authors conclude that no single method is sufficient to characterize a marble sample from an object well enough to characterize its quarry source. However, combinations of two or more of these techniques can distinguish many marbles from different quarries.

In summary, these two studies are especially well-illustrated and interesting articles that provide a balanced and informative blend of art historical fact and scientific methodology and well-illustrate the increasing complexity of the role of analysis in art and archaeology.

The third section devoted to Notes and Documents includes eight separate articles which will not be described in detail here. However, it is worth pointing out that the article by Gilbert Delcroix and Jean-Claude Philippot, “Three Astrolabes; physio-chemical analyses and the exploitation of results,” and Cecile Morrisson's “Knowledge of ancient coinage and methods of physical analysis,” are both long and detailed studies and well worth the close consideration of the reader.

The other six articles are relatively shorter and in several instances represent the application of well-proven techniques such as beta radiography and dendrochronology. The final fifteen pages present us with an excellent summary of the methods of dating, analysis, and dosage, all represented in large-format tabular form. I shall not list all the methods described here except to say that there are thirty-seven different entries listing the method, the scientific principle underlying that method, the kind of information obtained by the technique, applications, and selected basic references. Many of the descriptions are accompanied by a diagram illustrating the principle or data or the apparatus. The specialist may find these descriptions inadequate, but the conservator, art historian, or archaeologist should find them useful references.

The complete Table of Contents follows.

Copyright © 1984 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works