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Past Events


01/26/2016: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

Form, Color, and Function: Understanding the Appearance of Art through Computational Imaging and Materials Analysis

Marc Walton, Senior Scientist , Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts

Tuesday, January 26, 2016 
4:00pm Tech L361

How do you quantify the appearance of a work of art? Simply, take its picture. 

New ways of engaging with cultural heritage objects have been made possible with advances in computation and imaging that allow scientists to analyze art non-invasively, historians to better address its function and context, and the general public to explore and interact with art objects in ways never before possible. In this talk, I demonstrate how the Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts has been adapted these methods of computational imaging (e.g., photometric stereo, hyperspectral imaging, super-resolution X-ray fluorescence imaging, and other techniques) to reduce artworks into their basic components of form, color, and visual content. These data provide a better understanding of how artists worked, how these objects were used, and how they have aged over time. Case studies will be presented that show how multiple wavelengths of light illuminated from all directions onto Roman portrait paintings (2nd C. AD) and works by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) are helping us re-evaluate how the artists created these paintings and drawings. Finally, I will demonstrate how collection of these data is facilitating material classification through the creation of image-based databases and libraries. 

Biography: Marc Walton is the Senior Scientist at the Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts and holds an appointment as a Research Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. Trained in Chemistry and Art History at Clark University, he earned a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford following an MA in art history and a diploma in the conservation of works of art from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Marc worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for two years prior to joining the Getty Conservation Institute in 2005, where he was an associate scientist responsible for the scientific study of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. He established and ran the analytical laboratory at the Getty Villa site for eight years. His research has focused primarily on trade and manufacture of ancient objects as well as the development of new computation imaging techniques for the analysis of art.

10/12/2016: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

From Biominerals to Ancient Technologies: Exploring New Routes for Durable Building Materials

Admir Masic, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Inspired by the remarkable structural complexity of biological materials and their benign conditions for synthesis, Nature can offer tremendous insights into design and processing strategies for the synthesis of complex, damage tolerant, and hierarchically ordered composites. Similarly to Nature, ancient processing technologies delivered extremely durable and environmentally resistant construction materials, many examples of which have persisted in excellent condition for more than 2000 years. In order to unlock the design secrets of both biological and ancient materials, we have to understand the intrinsic material properties at all levels of their structural hierarchy, their intricate structure-chemistry-function relationships, and the consequences associated with their interactions with the external environment. In this talk, I will present an overview of my research on advanced multiscale material characterization approaches to study in situ hierarchical structures and transformations of relevant biological and ancient materials. By integrating the state-of-the-art characterization and modeling tools, a novel roadmap for durable and sustainable building materials of our future will be outlined.

Lecture will take place on the Northwestern University Evanston Campus at Ryan Hall, 2190 Campus Drive, in room 4003, on Wednesday, October 12, at 11:00 am.

10/18/2016: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

Color Perception and Art: Constraints of Vision and Disease

Michael Marmor, MD, Professor, Dept. of Ophthalmology, Stanford University School of Medicine 

The sensation of color is largely superimposed on our innate ability to see contrast, shape, and depth through brightness. Because of this, artists can create unexpected effects (Kirchner, Dufy, Picasso). Our ability to "see" the same colors in different light (because of contrast) is useful in life, but can be an issue in art (e.g. Monet's lilies) and conservation. And juxtaposing colors of equal value creates shimmer and confusion, which has been used wisely and sometimes unwisely (Kirchner, Derain, Warhol).

Eye disease poses different problems. Color "blindness" confuses red and green, and there is a typical palette when you know the problem (Meryon, Charles Henry). Some have suggested Van Gogh had color problems, or toxicity, leading to his intense yellows; we'll consider that. Degas has failing vision over 40 years from retinal disease, and the progressive blur affected his options. Cassatt had blur from diabetic cataracts. Aging cataracts become brown and damage color discrimination. Monet had dense cataracts developing between 1912 and 1922, and his very late works (in the Marmottan) show the effects. Some of the AIC lily ponds show lesser changes. Did cataracts cause Turner's impressionism and use of yellow? We'll consider these proposals with caution. 

Michael F. Marmor, MD trained at Harvard University and is Professor of Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. As a retina specialist and retinal physiologist, he has written over 250 scientific papers and several books. He is also known for pioneering studies on the role of vision and eye disease in art, and has for years taught a Stanford undergraduate course on “The Art of Vision.” He has created visual simulations to demonstrate the effects of visual loss on art, including the late works of Monet and Degas. His latest book on art is The Artist’s Eyes (2009, Abrams). 

Lecture will take place at the Art Institute of Chicago on Tuesday, October 18, at 4:15 pm in the Operations Conference Room

10/20/2016: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

Identifying the Hand of the Artist - Characterizing the Appearence of Roman Portrait Paintings

Dr. Marc Walton

In this lecture, Marc Walton of Northwestern University highlights his recent work on assessing the style and painting methods of mummy portraits excavated from the site of Tebtunis in modern day Umm el-Breigat, Egypt.

Click here for more information.

Lecture will take place at the Art Institute of Chicago on Thursday, October 20, at 6:00 pm in the Morton Auditorium.

11/07/2016: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

A Conversation with Conservator

Robert van Langh, Ph.D., Head of Conservation at the Rijksmuseum and Director of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS)

"Re-opening of the Rijksmuseum and the forming of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation Art and Science (NICAS): Art, History, Conservation and Science under one roof."

Dr. Van Langh is the head of conservation at the Rijksmuseum as well as director of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS). Join us for a lecture and discussion on the changing role of the conservator in museums in the 21st century. 

Lecture at the Block Museum of Art
November 7th, 2016, 6-7 pm
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60201

The event is being supported by the Northwestern University Art History department through the Elizabeth and Todd Warnock Visiting Scholars Fund and is organized by the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts. 

11/14/2016: Hieronymus Bosch: Touched By the Devil

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched By the Devil

Screening & Discussion
November 14, 2016, 7-10 pm

Pancoe Auditorium
2200 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60201

A documentary following the art historical resarch team trying to unravel the mystery of the approximately 25 remaining paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Followed by a discussion with technical art historian Professor Ron Spronk, Professor of Art History at Queens University and Jheronimus Bosch Chair at Radboud University.

Professor Spronk is a professor of Art History with a special interest in painting materials and techniques. He studies the genesis of easel paintings (from Van Eyck to Mondrian) using scientific techniques. Join us for a screening and discussion on the technical investigation of works by Hieronnymus Bosch. 

The event is being supported by the Northwestern University Art History department through the Elizabeth and Todd Warnock Visitng Scholars Fund and is organized by the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts. 

12/02/2016: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts and Art History Open House

An Exchange of Ideas between the Departments of Material Science & Art History

Friday, December 2nd, 3-6 pm
2145 Sheridan Rd. 
Evanston, IL 60208

This open house will include a tour of the laboratories for materials investigation and computational photography available on campus, along with a panel exploring interdisciplinary connections between art and science.

Bring either your art historical questions or your analytical solution/tool...

This event is being supported by the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts as well as the Department of Art History and McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. 


05/17/2015: Seventh MaSC Workshop and Meeting

Seventh MaSC Workshop and Meeting

The Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University, the Field Museum, and Agilent Technologies
Chicago, Illinois, USA
17 – 22 May 2015

The 7th Workshop and Meeting of the Users’ Group for Mass Spectrometry and Chromatography (MaSC) will take place in Chicago from Sunday 17th – Friday 22nd May 2015. 

Registration for the workshop (17-20 May) is now closed, but registration to attend the meeting at the Art Institute of Chicago on 21-22 May is still open.

The meeting will include a session on inorganic and isotope ratio mass spectrometry, the topic of the 2015 workshop, but will also cover a broad range of applications of diverse chromatographic and mass spectrometric techniques to study art and cultural artefacts. Topics will include:

  • Stable isotope analysis as a provenancing tool for marble artefacts
  • ICP-MS and lead isotope analysis of Roman silver
  • The characterisation of proteins and gums by MALDI-TOF and related MS techniques
  • Py-GCMS analysis of Asian and European lacquers
  • GCMS and VOC analysis of degradation markers in modern materials
  • GCMS and LCMS characterization of aqueous and oleoresinous paint media

Full details of the workshop and meeting, a registration form, and practical information on accommodation, payment, etc. can be found on the MaSC website.

Questions can be addressed to the local organizers and MaSC committee, c/o Ken Sutherland and Marc Walton,

05/26/2015: Art and Science: Traversing the Creative Spectrum

Art and Science: Traversing the Creative Spectrum

A University Library Symposium

Join us to examine how two fields often mistaken as opposites are, in fact, eternally interconnected. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
2:00-4:00 pm
University Library, Forum Room

Presentations include:

  • Mary Cassatt's Lamp
    S. Hollis Clayson, Professor of Art History and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities
  • The Graphic Works of Paul Gauguin: Unraveling the Mystery of his Studio Practices
    Harriet Stratis, Senior Research Conservator, The Art Institute of Chicago
  • The Needle in the Haystack: Preserving Research Library Collections with a Focus on Unique Items
    Susan Russick, University Library Conservator
  • Surface-Shape Studies of Gauguin's Monotypes, Prints, and Drawings
    Marc Walton, Senior Scientist for the Norrthwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts
    Oliver Cossairt, Lisa Wissner-Slivka and Benjamin Slivka Junior Professor of Computer Science

Following the presentations, there will be a discussion moderated by Tania Munz, lecturer, Science in Human Culture Program

10/30/2015: Lecture by Professor Marco Giamello

Observations and Studies of Masterpieces of Tuscan Sculptors: The David of Michelangelo and the Triptych by Tino di Camaino

Professor Giamello will present the results of his studies conducted on the Michelangelo’s David during the restoration 2003, and those of recent investigations on Tino Camaino’s Triptych, which resides in the collection of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The studies were conducted with mineralogical/petrographic approaches and, in the case of Camaino’s Triptych, using a 3D digital video microscope as well. The marbles, traces of film, colors and tool marks were all studied and the results obtained concern aspects such as the origin of the marbles, the techniques used in the execution of the works, their current state of conservation, as well as the identification of past restorations.

Prof. Marco Giamellois is a graduate and researcher in Geological Sciences. He heads the Conservation of Cultural Heritage Research Unit of the Department of Earth, Environment and Physical Sciences at the University of Siena in Siena, Italy and teaches courses such as Science for Cultural Heritage, Archaeometry and Conservation of Stone Monuments.

Sharp Building Room 328
37 S. Wabash , Chicago, IL

For more information, click here.


02/12/2014 Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Annual Seminar

Advances in the scientific imaging and analysis of painted surfaces

Announcing the seminar: "Deconstructing and reconstructing paintings: advances in the scientific imaging and analysis of painted surfaces", under the auspices of the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS), which will take place on Wednesday, February 12, 2014, in the Millennium Park Room, at The Art Institute of Chicago.

This event is part of a continuing seminar series on conservation science, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago CEnter for Scientific Studies in the Arts. The goal of these seminars is twofold: to inform art historians, conservators, curators and conservation scientists on the techniques and expertise available in science and engineering for advancing the practices of art history and conservation, and to educate scientists and engineers on the opportunities and unsolved problems in conservation science.

Participation is free, thanks to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center of Northwestern University, but you need to register in order to attend this seminar.

Please RSVP to by Friday, January 24, 2014. For more information, you may call (847) 491-3606. 

9:00 am

Frank Zuccari (The Art Institute of Chicago), Welcome

9:30 am
Kelly Keegan and Kim Muir (Art Institute of Chicago), In–depth investigation of Renoir and Monet paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago

10:00 am
Joris Dik (Delft University of Technology), Innovations in Macro-XRF Mapping of Paintings Enable a New Kind of Art History

10:30 am 
John Delaney (National gallery of Art, Washington DC), Visible and IR Reflectance Imaging Spectroscopy for In-situ Mapping of Artworks

11:00 am
Luca Pezzati, (CNR INOA, Florence, Italy), Advances in multiband IR  imaging of masterpieces of Italian Renaissance art

11:30 am
Robert G. Erdmann (University of Arizona and Rijksmuseum), Advances in Image Processing and Visualization of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch

12:00 pm

2:00 pm
William Sethares (University of Wisconsin, Madison) Automated classification of papers based on raking light graphs of their surface

2:30 pm
Federica Pozzi (Art Institute of Chicago) Paint Daubs and Nanoparticles: SERS and Digital Reconstruction of Impressionist Paintings

3:00 pm
Jens Stenger (Harvard Art Museums and Yale) Non-Invasive Color Restoration of Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals Using Light 

3:30 pm

3:45 pm
Concluding remarks. Marc Walton, NU-ACCESS

02/14/2014: AAAS 2014 Annual Meeting

Reconstructing and Deconstructing Paintings: Innovations At and Below the Surface

Friday, 14 February 2014: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM

Grand Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

A deep connection to our past and shared cultural heritage must be preserved to foster a balanced society where all humanity can thrive. Moderated by a museum leader, this symposium presents cross-disciplinary and international perspectives on the scientific study of paintings from all ages. It will describe analysis of paint materials used by Pablo Picasso at the nanoscale, as only possible at the brightest synchrotron sources. It will highlight how new imaging techniques can reveal the invisible, bringing to light underlying compositions of old masters’ paintings. This in turn enables the writing of new art history and provides important material clues that can assist with attribution and authentication. This symposium will also demonstrate how scientific analysis and cutting-edge computer science can lead to innovative approaches to touchless virtual restoration and to the inspiring public presentation of a contemporary art masterpiece by Mark Rothko, literally turning back the hand of time. Researchers from museums, academia, and large facilities will explain how the use of new technology can lead to new discoveries, which, in turn, can change the public’s and the specialists’ perception of great works of art.

Click here for more details.

05/19/2014: International Symposium on Archaeometry

International Symposium on Archaeometry

Co-Chairs: Marc Walton (Northwestern) and Ioanna Kakoulli (UCLA)

The International Symposium on Archaeometry (ISA) in May 2014 will be a valuable opportunity to apply and demonstrate the latest research and findings of archaeometric research on a broad range of topics across time and space. The symposium will draw on examples and best practices from interdisciplinary research at the interface between the natural sciences, engineering and archaeology to reconstruct and understand human behavior through the study of material culture.

Taking place in Los Angeles, the ISA will bring together internationally renowned archaeological scientists and archaeologists with museum professionals, conservation scientists, policy-makers, representatives from non-governmental organizations and industry, natural scientists, engineers and other interested groups to  discuss new findings and innovations in technology and scientific research, and address current and global challenges in archaeology and cultural property ranging from the looting and illicit trafficking of antiquities to the archaeology of transitional periods.

Regular registration ends: 15 May 2014

Conference dates: 19-23 May 2014

For more information, please click here.

07/24/2014: Gordon Conference on Scientific Methods in Cultural Heritage Research

Challenges and Complexity in Characterization and Conservation

July 27 - August 1, 2014
Sunday River Resort
Newry, ME

Chairs: Francesca Casadio & Philippe Walter

This second Gordon Research Conference on Scientific Methods in Cultural Heritage Research offers exceptional opportunities to discuss the latest research advances on the material components, degradation phenomena and conservation strategies for cultural heritage objects. The symposium will have particular relevance for the study and preservation of important artifacts of the past and present, but will also highlight how innovative analytical techniques and sampling approaches can advance discoveries and overcome the limitations to analysis posed by hierarchically complex and often irreplaceable materials.

The 2014 conference will highlight the disciplines involved and techniques employed to study material culture at the level necessary to adequately characterize both the structure and chemistry required for the design of novel restoration and preservation strategies and for critical interpretation. The session will demonstrate (a) how advances in analytical and imaging probes have afforded an unprecedented view of complex materials and (b) how such advances have led to innovative solutions for diagnosis of alteration mechanisms, treatment, and preventive conservation. Leading researchers representing chemistry, physics, biochemistry, materials science, art conservation, and archaeological science will participate in the discussion. The conference will explore diagnostic methods, modes of alteration, biodeterioration, prevention and treatment in conservation, along with the in-depth exploration of surface and 3-D transport phenomena. Understanding how these changes in molecular and hierarchical structucture will be used to develop predictive change in these complex materials will be a keystone of conference discussion and synthesis.

The Conference offers a unique format that fosters extended and in-depth interdisciplinary discussion and provides a fruitful environment for the genesis of new research ideas by a diverse community of scientists and conservators at the forefront of their fields. Emphasis is placed on extended discussions during the sessions and speakers, and discussion leaders and attendees have numerous opportunities to interact outside of the structured sessions.

Museum and academic attendees, large scale facility scientists, archaeologists, archaeometrists, conservators and curators, junior scientists and graduate students are encouraged to present their work in a poster format. The participation of young investigators is promoted through dedicated poster sessions, with selection of the best abstract for oral presentation during the special Thursday evening session. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows should also consider participating in the allied Gordon Research Seminar on Scientific methods in Cultural Heritage Research (July 26-27, same location) which is specially designed to stimulate interaction and discussion between junior scientists.

08/26/2014: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

Microbes & art: friends or foes?

Francesca Cappitelli, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italy

Microbial agents are among the major causes of deterioration of cultural heritage, powerfully affecting our global cultural legacy, the stone, glass, wood and other media that make up the millions of artworks and monuments around the world. But it’s not all about rot and erosion! Microbial action has been harnessed to clean the surfaces of stone sculptures and buildings, and frescoes. In particular, the ability and potential of different microorganisms to remove undesired compounds have been demonstrated several times in the last decade.

Lecture will take place at the Art Institute of Chicago on Tuesday, August 26, at 2:30 pm in the Operations Conference Room 

10/02/2014: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Seminar

Enhancing Understanding of Cultural Heritage with Femtosecond Optical Pump-Probe Microscopy

Warren S. Warren

The study, conservation, and preservation of cultural heritage objects requires an understanding of their three-dimensional structure and material composition. Nondestructive visualization of structure and specific material identification is challenging and limited. Here we apply a nonlinear imaging method (femtosecond pump-probe imaging with shaped pulse trains), recently developed for tissue imaging applications, to cultural heritage objects. This method generates noninvasive 3-d images with modest power and chemical specificity. Demonstrated applications include the geo-sourcing of the historically important pigment lapis lazuli, imaging of several cross sections from Renaissance era paintings, completely non-destructive depth imaging on an intact 14th century painting (The Crucifixion by Puccio Capanna), differentiation of earth pigments to infer pottery firing conditions, analysis of parchment samples, and investigation of photodegradation. We show that this method provides microscopic information valuable for dating and sourcing pigments, elucidating methods of preparation, and profiling degradation products. We will compare and constrast the challenges in biological tissue imaging and cultural heritage imaging, to highlight the opportunities to develop synergies. 

Biography: Warren S. Warren received his A.B. from Harvard in 1977, M. S. in 1979 and Ph. D. in 1980 from U. C. Berkeley (chemistry), and did postdoctoral work 1981-1982 at Caltech. From 1982 to 2005 he was on the faculty at Princeton, finally as the Ralph W. Dornte Professor of Chemistry. In 2005 he moved to Duke, where is the James B. Duke Professor of Chemistry; Professor of Radiology, Physics, and Biomedical Engineering, and Director of the Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging. He is a fellow of several distinguished societies and has received national awards from the American Physical Society and American Chemical Society. His research focuses on the development of novel techniques to enhance magnetic resonance and optical imaging. He is also the author of an award-winning general chemistry textbook, The Physical Basis of Chemistry.

Lecture will take place at the Art Institute of Chicago on Thursday, October 2, at 3:00 pm in the Operations Conference Room.

11/01/2014: Chicago Humanities Festival

Richard Gray Visual Arts Series - Sacre Bleu

Dr. Marc Walton

Blue pigment occurs naturally in exactly one form: lapis lazuli. That uniqueness made the color a luxury commodity for thousands of years. Traded at a cost greater than gold, reserved for royalty, and written into artist’s contracts, blue is both visuallyand materially rich. Marc Walton, senior scientist at the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University, is an expert on blue’s history. Join him as he uncovers the color’s journey through art history, from Cleopatra’s eye shadow to Picasso’s blue period. Find out more.

The annual Richard Gray Visual Art Series recognizes a significant gift from founding CHF board member and distinguished art dealer Richard Gray and is presented in partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago.


02/27/2013: Science Cafe

Solving Art's Mysteries

Henri Matisse was a painter of vivid colors. From 1913 – 1917, however, he radically changed his style and palette. By collaborating with Art Institute conservators and scientists, Northwestern engineering research teams turned up significant clues as to how Matisse’s famous painting “Bathers by a River” evolved during its painting. Many other works of art have also been researched.

Wednesday, February 27
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

The Firehouse Grill
750 Chicago Avenue 

Professor Faber will discuss the coupling of science, engineering, and art which builds bridges across disciplines and across Chicago, enabling a new kind of art history through the recently established Northwestern University-Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts.

04/24/2013: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

"The Master's Hand": Can image analysis detect the hand of the master?

Ingrid Daubechies, Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, Professor and James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics

Northwestern University’s Department of Mathematics, Department of Art History, and NU-ACCESS present a lecture by Ingrid Daubechies, winner of the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics and Professor and James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics, titled, "The Master's Hand: Can Image Analysis Detect the Hand of the Master?"

The talk will describe wavelets, a mathematical tool used for the analysis and compression of images. These have recently been used for the study of paintings by artists such as Van Gogh, Goossen van der Weyden, Gauguin and Giotto.

4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24
Harris Hall, Room 107
1881 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois

Free and open to the public. Reception following the lecture.

Sponsored by the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize bequest. Learn more about the Nemmers Prize, lectures, and laureates.

For more information contact Greg Jue.

07/11/2013: The George and Marie Quinlan Endowed Lecture for Preservation and Conservation

Stewardship in Collections Care: A Necessary Collaboration among Allied Professionals

Based on her work as a paintings conservator, Cynthia Kuniej Berry will discuss the fascinating world of art conservation and the issues involved in preparing artwork for exhibition. Focusing on specific paintings, including items from the Northwestern University Library collection, Cynthia will describe how paintings are repaired and how conservation fits into the broader mission of libraries and museums. Emphasis will be given to how collections care decisions are made and how librarians, curators and conservators can work together to preserve and promote unique collections.

Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.
Annie May Swift Hall Auditorium
Northwestern University

Receiption to follow in Deering Library

08/05/2013: The NU Club of Portland

The NU Club of Portland presents: Solving Art’s Mysteries

Katherine T. Faber, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; Co-director, Northwestern University-Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts at Northwestern 

Henri Matisse was a painter of vivid colors.  From 1913 – 1917, however, he radically changed his style and palette.  By collaborating with Art Institute conservators and scientists, Northwestern engineering research teams turned up significant clues as to how Matisse’s famous painting “Bathers by a River” evolved during its painting. Along with understanding the history of the Matisse work, researchers have also uncovered the sources of coloration of an ancient jade sculpture called “The Kneeling Figure,” the reasons a dramatic sky disappeared from Winslow Homer’s watercolor “For to be a Farmer’s Boy,” the culprits behind the faded brilliance of Seurat’s oil painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” and the provenance of a number of modern bronze sculptures, including some by Picasso.

Northwestern and the Art Institute of Chicago have formed a new Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts. Join the co-director of the Center for a conversation about how science, engineering, and art meet to create a new kind of art history. 

Monday, August 5, 2013 
7:00 p.m. 
Dessert reception 

Marylhurst University
Flavia Hall Salon
17600 Pacific Highway (Hwy 43)
Lake Oswego, Oregon

Questions: Barbara Cullicott at (503) 699-4911 or

10/03/2013: Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Lecture

XVI Century painters in Parma (North of Italy): multi-technique analysis of wall-paintings

Danilo Bersani, Department of Physics and Earth Sciences, University of Parma
Parco Area delle Scienze 7/a, 43124 Parma, Italy

11:30am -12:30pm
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Cook Hall, Room 2058
2220 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208

The restoration of some painted chapels in three of the most important churches in Parma (North of Italy) enabled a comparison between the techniques and the materials used by different painters of the 16th century: Correggio (Antonio Allegri, 1489-1534), Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, 1503/1540) and Michelangelo Anselmi (1492/1556). They were the most important painters of the Parma school of the Italian Manierismo. The analysed chapels, present in the Cathedral of Parma, in the Abbey of San Giovanni Evangelista and in the church of Santa Maria della Steccata,  were painted between 1519 and 1540, covering different moments in the life of the artists, allowing the observation of the evolution of their techniques.

The identification of pigments and binding media, used in polychrome works of art, provides art historians and scholars with precise information about the techniques used in the creation of the work itself, and gives to conservators and restorers guidelines about materials to use in conservation treatments.

The protocol used for the analysis normally  started with non-invasive exams and then concluding with sampling, as follows:

  1. Imaging analyses (IR reflectography, and false color infrared, UV fluorescence)
  2. Non-invasive spectroscopic analyses (reflectance visible spectrometry, X-ray fluorescence)
  3. Micro-samples collection, for micro-destructive analyses (micro-Raman, FTIR, gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD)).

Usually, only a sub-set of these methods was available. However, it was important to determine the organic and inorganic compounds in the same spots to recognize the kind of painting technique: fresco – mezzo fresco – a secco. For this purpose, a good combination of  techniques is micro-Raman spectroscopy  and  GC-MS.

The whole palette of the artists, as well as the organic media, were identified, suggesting a slightly different use of the fresco technique by the three painters. Even restoration materials (acrylic resins, paraffin waxes, various pigments) and degradation products (calcium sulfate di-hydrate and calcium oxalate were recognized.

The evolution of  the technique with the age is evident, in particular for Parmigianino: in its latest artwork many pigments were mixed to obtain particular hues. In some cases, synchrotron radiation XRF micro-mappings were necessary to fully understand the composition of the colours.

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