The scientific analysis of a painting provides important information about the piece, including the type of pigments used, the type of paint utilized by the artist, and the support.  When the materials used by an artist are identified we can determine if this painting is consistent with the period for when the painting was created, and if the materials are consistent with what is known about an artist’s pallet.  We may find that one or more of the materials present in the painting is anachronistic, which would indicate that the painting is potentially a copy or reproduction of the original, or in some cases it was deliberately altered or produce to imitate an original work.


A number of different scientific techniques can be utilized for the investigation of the materials present in a painting. Examination of the painting with different forms of light helps reveal how the paint was applied, potential areas of restoration or conservation, and the scope of the materials present on the painting. This examination can include white light, raking light, ultraviolet light, infrared light and x-ray images.


In nearly every case optical microscopy is used for the collecting of samples of paint, canvas or wood.  Once samples are collected, techniques including polarized light microscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry, visible spectroscopy, x-ray fluorescence, gas or liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry are utilized to characterize and identify materials used.


When the materials have been identified, the results are compared to reference information regarding dates of use for certain materials based on published literature, patents, and trademark information.  At this point it is possible to make a determination about the consistency of the painting with a known creation date, a believed period of creation, and with other examples of the artist’s palette.  These results are summarized in a comprehensive report which includes the findings as well as the analytical data collected for the materials.

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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