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Examination of Vincent van Gogh's Paintings and Pigments by Means of State-of-the-art Analytical Methods

Recent studies in which X-ray beams of macroscopic to (sub) microscopic dimensions were used for non-destructive analysis and characterization of pigments, paint micro samples and/or entire paintings by Vincent van Gogh are concisely reviewed. The overview presented encompasses the use of laboratory and synchrotron radiation-based instrumentation and deals with the use of several variants of X-ray fluorescence (XRF) as a method of elemental analysis and imaging as well as with the combined use of X-ray diffraction (XRD) and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). Microscopic and macroscopic XRF are variants of the method that are well suited to visualize the elemental distribution of key elements, mostly metals, present in paint multi layers, either on the length scale from 1–100 μm inside micro samples taken from paintings or on the 1–100 cm length scale when the (subsurface) distribution of specific pigments in entire paintings is concerned. In the context of the characterization of van Gogh's pigments subject to natural degradation, the use of methods limited to elemental analysis or imaging usually is not sufficient to elucidate the chemical transformations that have taken place. However, at synchrotron facilities, combinations of μ-XRF with related methods such as μ-XAS and μ-XRD have proven themselves to be very suitable for such studies. Their use is often combined with microscopic Fourier transform infra-red (μ-FTIR) spectroscopy since this method delivers complementary information at more or less the same length scale as the X-ray microprobe techniques. Also in the context of macroscopic imaging of works of art, the complementary use of X-ray based and infra-red based imaging appears very promising; some recent developments are discussed.

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14 Aug 2014
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