The analysis of artwork in metals presents some interesting challenges with regard to materials characterization. In many cases the focus of the analysis is to look at the elemental composition of the metal to determine the type of metal used, or depending the period a specific alloy.  As metal objects are exposed to the environment over time, the patina that is developed also provides a very characteristic aspect of the piece which can be analyzed.


Nondestructive elemental analysis can be performed using x-ray fluorescence, which provides information about the elements used in a metal as well as their portions. This information can be compared against references to determine a type of alloy used.  Sampling in numerous areas on an object can also provide information as to the homogeneity of the alloy be an indication of the age of the piece.  X-ray fluorescence also characterize the chemical composition of patina to show it characteristic materials have formed oxides or sulfides as would be expected to environmental exposure.


In some situations it may be used to remove very small amounts of metal for analysis with a scanning electron microscope equipped with an energy dispersive x-ray detector. Sample amounts typically are microscopic and can be collected with small abrasive pads.  The advantage of a SEM/EDS analysis can be better resolution of components as well as detection of lighter elements that may not give a substantial response by x-ray fluorescence.

We'd Love to Hear From You

If you would like further information on the scientific analysis of artwork and how it might be able to help you, please use the form below to send us a message. The procedure for having artwork analyzed is to first submit background information about the artwork along with a photograph(s) and what you are trying to determine about the artwork.  We will prepare a proposal for you, outlining the scope of the analysis and an estimate of the costs involved.  All communications with the Center for Art Materials Analysis are considered confidential.

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