As macro X-ray Fluorescence scanning (MA-XRF) recently succeeded in revealing hidden compositions and pentimenti in a number of 16th-20th C easel paintings, all verso panels were analysed in reflection mode by means of the in-house built MA-XRF instrument of the University of Antwerp. The total painted surface measuring over 8 m² was analysed in 60 working days, making it the largest polychromed surface that has been entirely chemically imaged so far.
The SUM spectrum shows the sum of >2 million XRF spectra recorded on the Vyd panel (shown above) with indication of the applied fit model, calculated background substraction and the contribution of all emission lines to the spectral peaks. The ensuing compositional information was presented in a visual manner by plotting the detected fluorescence signals in elemental distribution maps (see example above). The dotted white rectangles on the closed altarpiece illustrate how the painting was divided into 37 areas for scanning. After spectral deconvolution, the separate maps of each panel were seamlessly compiled.
The chemical images demonstrated that the scenes were largely overpainted. In particular, the high energy Pb-L and Hg-L maps revealed an underlying composition with more elaborate and sharper forms showing a more sophisticated gradation of tones and additional highlights that more closely resembles Van Eycks’s skilful painting style.
The detail scan shown above illustrates how MAXRF revealed the exact location of small paint losses in the original composition (Pb), hidden from the naked eye by the (often pristine) overpaint. In addition, the Fe map demonstrates how a reddish iron-based material was first applied to fill the defects before the application of the overpaint,
in this case holding azurite (Cu) and a red lake (not detectable by MA-XRF)