New technique uncovers the history of a painting through the paint used

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Scientists were able to come up with a new line of evidence for dating and authenticating paintings by analyzing white lead paint in Dutch paintings from the 1600s.


The Dutch masters and white paint are the subject of a detective story. The only type of white paint made from lead was used until the 20th century.

For hundreds of years a painter would not use lead white.

MARY LOUISE KELLY is the host.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, Casadio is a chemist. She says lead white was unparalleled.

It has a kind of butter consistency and it's dense. It's very opaque when you apply, and you can do highlights. It will retain the texture when mixed with oil.

Paint is telling us new stories about art and the world that shaped it because lead mines in Europe extract lead with different chemical qualities. Different flavors of lead can be found in the paint and can be differentiated in modern labs.

Casadio compares the lead in a paint sample to marbles.

Some are heavier and some are lighter. They were made to run into a track. The lighter ones are first, and the heavier ones later. You can count and track them.

More than 70 Dutch paintings from 1588 to 1700, including works by Rembrandt and Rubens, have been analyzed by scientists in Amsterdam.

Sampling many paintings made in different times give us an idea of the lead isotopes used by the artists.

Paolo D'Imporzano is a professor at the Free University. The English Civil War reflected changes in lead chemistry.

We know that warfare required a lot of lead. The civil war can disrupt the lead supply and cause it to be white.

Clues like that helped the team conclude that one of the masterpieces painted by Drost may not have been painted in Venice.

The painting's signature is similar to a Rembrandt painting from the same period, so it's most likely from Amsterdam.

Science is one clue used to solve arts mysteries.

It's a sort of detective story that needs more than one detective, but a team of experts that are very different.

Next time you visit an art museum, pay attention to the paint. It might be more than you think.

There is a sound of moss of AURA's "SLICK".

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