In-depth research into Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring involved macro-XRF and macro-XRPD scans
In March 2018, Vermeers iconic painting ''The Girl with the Pearl Earring'' was examined by AXES in the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague, the Netherlands.
Girl with the Pearl Earring, (1665) Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague, the Netherlands.
This investigation was part of a larger research project called ''Girl in the Spotlight'', instigated by Abbie Vandivere, paintings conservator at the Mauritshuis Museum.
This action started with a lot of interest from the international press and involved the recording of a MA-XRF scan. The latter yields elemental maps of the paintings, as shown below for the case of several chemical elements such as potassium (K), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe) and lead (Pb). In these maps, the location of paint losses can be clearly be seen. Only in a limited number of positions on the painting (such as The Girl's collar, cheek and near her left eye) this is the case.
Elemental maps of The Girl's face obtained by MA-XRF.
Macro-level investigation by AXES: MA-XRPD
Acquisition of MAXRPD data by Dr. Frederik Vanmeert and Steven De Meyer during in situ scanning in the Golden Room of the Mauritshuis museum.
Prof. Geert Van der Snickt, Kurt Kerkhofs (UAntwerp) filming the MA-XRPD measurements performed by Steven De Meyer and Dr. Frederik Vanmeert.
The measurements involve recording an X-ray powder diffraction spectrum at a very large number of positions on the paintings's surface. One of these is shown below, showing the presence of many components.
Microscopic level investigation of paint samples
To determine which type of lead white were present in several of the superimposed paint layers, two paint samples were taken and examined at the PETRA-III Synchrotron radiation facility (DESY, Hamburg) with a microscopically small beam of X-rays. At beamline P06 (PETRA micro/nanoprobe), each of the paint layers constituing the two minute flake of paint shown below coud be irradiated separately.
Minuscule paint samples are first embedded in resin blocks and polished to expose the layer buildup of the paint (see below). Dr. Jan Garrevoet (DESY Hamburg) is placing a sample in the P06 X-ray micropprobe endstation of the PETRA-III synchrotron.
Optical and electron micrograph of two paint samples: (keft) sample #40 (light part of the face); (right) sample #39 (shadowed part of the cheek).
Again X-ray diffraction was employed to determine which crystalline products were present in each paint layer.
View of the control hutch of PETRA-III X-ray micro/nanoprobre with Ermanno Avranovich, Steven de Meyer (UAntwerp) and Jan Garrevoet (DESY) performing measurements.
Dr. Jan Garrevoet (DESY), Steven de Meyer (UAntwerp) and Dr. Victor Gonzalez (TUDelft) discussing the synchrotron micro-XRPD data.