Elemental distribution maps are of great interest in the study of historical paintings, as they allow to investigate the pigment use of the artist, to image changes made in the painting during or after its creation and in some cases to reveal discarded paintings that were later over painted. Yet a method that allows to record such maps of a broad range of elements in a fast, non-destructive and in situ manner is not yet commonly available; a dedicated mobile scanning XRF instrument might fill this gap. In this paper we present three self-built scanning macro-XRF instruments, each based on the experience gained with its precursor. These instruments are compared in terms of sensitivity and limits of detection, which includes a discussion of the use of polycapillary optics and pinhole collimators as beam defining devices. Furthermore, the imaging capabilities of the instruments are demonstrated in three exemplary cases: (parts of) historical paintings from the 15th to the 19th century are examined. These cases illustrate the value of element specific distribution maps in the study of historical paintings and allow in the case of Vincent van Gogh's “Patch of Grass” a direct comparison between in situ and synchrotron based scanning macro-XRF.
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