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High-Definition X-ray Fluorescence Elemental Mapping of Paintings

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journal contribution
posted on 21.02.2016, 15:52 by Daryl L. Howard, Martin D. de Jonge, Deborah Lau, David Hay, Michael Varcoe-Cocks, Chris G. Ryan, Robin Kirkham, Gareth Moorhead, David Paterson, David Thurrowgood
A historical self-portrait painted by Sir Arthur Streeton (1867–1943) has been studied with fast-scanning X-ray fluorescence microscopy using synchrotron radiation. One of the technique’s unique strengths is the ability to reveal metal distributions in the pigments of underlying brushstrokes, thus providing information critical to the interpretation of a painting. We have applied the nondestructive technique with the event-mode Maia X-ray detector, which has the capability to record elemental maps at megapixels per hour with the full X-ray fluorescence spectrum collected per pixel. The painting poses a difficult challenge to conventional X-ray analysis, because it was completely obscured with heavy brushstrokes of highly X-ray absorptive lead white paint (2PbCO3·Pb­(OH)2) by the artist, making it an excellent candidate for the application of the synchrotron-based technique. The 25 megapixel elemental maps were successfully observed through the lead white paint across the 200 × 300 mm2 scan area. The sweeping brushstrokes of the lead white overpaint contributed significant detrimental structure to the elemental maps. A corrective procedure was devised to enhance the visualization of the elemental maps by using the elastic X-ray scatter as a proxy for the lead white overpaint. We foresee the technique applied to the most demanding of culturally significant artworks where conventional analytical methods are inadequate.