Highly specific X-ray powder diffraction imaging at the macroscopic and microscopic scale

Datum: 29 april 2019

Locatie: Campus Drie Eiken, Promotiezaal Q0.02 - Universiteitsplein 1 - 2610 Antwerpen-Wilrijk (route: UAntwerpen, Campus Drie Eiken)

Tijdstip: 16.15 uur

Organisatie / co-organisatie: Departement Chemie

Promovendus: Frederik Vanmeert

Promotor: Koen Janssens & Karolien De Wael

Korte beschrijving: Doctoraatsverdediging Frederik Vanmeert - Faculteit Wetenschappen, Departement Chemie


At or below the surface of painted works of art, valuable information is present that provides insights into an object’s past, such as the artist’s technique and the creative process that was followed or its conservation history, but also on its current state of preservation. Typically, a (very) limited set of small paint samples is taken which provide direct access to the individual paint layers. The chemical build-up of these layers can then be investigated in great detail using various microscopic analytical methods. However, in recent years a new trend towards both elemental and chemical imaging techniques has been set which are capable of visualizing the (often) heterogeneous composition of painted objects on a macroscopic scale.

In this dissertation, various forms of specificity attainable with X‑ray powder diffraction (XRPD) imaging are explored: at the chemical, material and spatial level. This high specificity is illustrated throughout several applications stemming from the field of cultural heritage, both at the macroscopic (MA) and microscopic (µ) scale.

As a first step, XRPD imaging was transformed to a transportable instrument that can be employed for the in situ investigation of artworks, e.g., inside museums and conservation workshops. With this unique instrument large‑scale maps (cm2 – dm2) reflecting the distribution of crystalline phases on/below the surface of flat painted artefacts can be visualized in a noninvasive manner. In this way compound-specific information was attained which can be related to original pigments or materials that have been added in a later stage and even degradation/secondary products that have formed spontaneously inside the paint layers.

Additionally, with MA‑XRPD imaging it was possible to link quantitative information of pigment compositions and preferred orientation effects to the 2D compound‑specific distribution images, allowing for a further distinction between very similar artists’ materials. Furthermore, promising results for the limited depth-selectivity of this technique, obtained by exploiting the small shift in the position of the diffraction signals originating from the layered sequence of the pigments, are shown.

Finally, a minute paint sample from Wheat stack under a cloudy sky by Van Gogh was investigated at a synchrotron radiation facility with tomographic µ‑XRPD imaging at the microscopic scale. The high chemical and spatial specificity of this imaging method was exploited to further elucidate the degradation pathway of the red lead pigment.

Link: https://www.uantwerpen.be/wetenschappen