Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
While those full body scanners that the TSA now employs in many airports may be considered “too revealing” to some travelers forced to walk through them, the same imaging technology is now being used to look under a painting on a wall to see if another work of art may be underneath.
Scientists working at the Louvre Museum in Paris have used the imaging technology to reveal images beneath a famous, but known forged fresco. The Trois Hommes Armes de Lances, a work believed to have been forged by 19th century art collector Giampietro Campana, may have a secret underneath and it could be an actual Roman era fresco, according to Parisienne researcher J. Bianca Jackson.
Works of art covering other works of art — or at least previous attempts at works of art — are not uncommon. Nor are efforts to see what the creator may have been working on. Even the great masters often re-used canvases, often to avoid the expense of buying a new canvas but also as a way to enhance the color and shapes in a piece. Sometimes it was just to cover up a piece for reasons that remain a mystery even today.
Picasso´s masterpiece “Woman Ironing” was long believed to have hidden another work underneath. This was first detected in 1989 with an infrared camera, suggesting that one canvas held two Picassos, reported the NY Times.
X-Ray technology also helped discover a 1919 illustration by N.C. Wyeth that was covered by another work, and this allowed it to be reproduced and seen for the first time in more than 80 years.
Now, instead of X-Rays, it is body scanners that are being used to reveal what can´t be seen. This allowed researchers to unveil that Roman fresco in the Louvre, which may be thousands of years old. They described the efforts to unveil it at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, which just concluded this week in New Orleans.
The imaging technology was able to provide a glimpse of what lies beneath in ways that other technology has failed to do. Frescoes present a special challenge when painted over, as these are typically painted on the wall while the plaster is still wet and thus the painting becomes a part of the wall. The earliest known frescoes reportedly date to about 1500 BC and have been found on the Greek island of Crete.
This imaging technology is a new addition that allows art conservators and researchers to see below the surface and even detect changes. This could help researchers determine if there have been alterations, such as fake signatures.
“No previous imaging technique, including almost half a dozen commonly used to detect hidden images below paintings, forged signatures of artists and other information not visible on the surface has revealed a lost image in this fresco,” said Jackson, PhD of the University of Rochester, who presented the findings at the recent ACS conference.
“This opens to door [sic] to wider use of the technology in the world of art, and we also used the method to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of humanity´s first settlements in what was ancient Turkey,”she said in a statement.
This technology utilizes terahertz spectroscopy, which rely on beams of electromagnetic radiation that lie between microwaves along with the infrared rays used in many remote controls. The radiation is relatively weak however and won´t damage the works of art or involve exposing the researchers to harmful radiation.
“Terahertz technology has been in use for some time, especially in quality control in the pharmaceutical industry to assure the integrity of pills and capsules, in biomedical imaging and even in homeland security with those whole-body scanners that see beneath clothing at airport security check points,” added Jackson.
While masters may have painted over old works, in the case of frescoes, these often were given a fresh coat of paint when the old ones faded.
In the case of Campana´s collection he was known to sometimes restore damaged parts or rework an original. Art historians believe Campana may have gone a bit further with the Trois Hommes Armes de Lances, and that the collector may have painted it after the fresco was removed from its original wall in Italy.
While Campana´s own work is considered valuable, the fact that an authentic Roman fresco is underneath can only add to the value. While it is not known who the man in the fresco is — it could be a Roman senator or just a wealthy land owner — Jackson said she´ll leave that to the art historians.
She is now on to the next art mystery, looking at what might be on the walls of a mud hut in the one of the earliest known human settlements in what is today modern day Turkey. Who knows what lies beneath.