Analytical Techniques: X-radiography

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Author: Jessica Ford

Editors: Anne Schaffer, Kari Rayner

X-radiography is a non-invasive technique that directs x-ray radiation through a painting and onto film or an imaging plate, producing an image based on the radio-opacity of the materials. Many features that would otherwise be hidden or difficult to distinguish may be visually clarified, such as hardware and construction of frames or stretchers; canvas weave and tacking margins; brushwork and hidden paint layers; and damages/restorations (MacBeth 2012).

Normal light photo (left) and X-radiograph (right) of an oil painting on canvas, highlighting radio-opaque pigments used throughout the composition, as well as the canvas weave, tacks around the canvas margin, and the wooden stretcher support. Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675). A Maid Asleep, ca. 1656–57. Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 30 1/8 in. (87.6 x 76.5 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913, 14.40.611. (Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Thread Counting[edit | edit source]

Thread counting has long been performed as a way to document and compare canvases. In more recent years, an algorithm has been developed to automate thread counting and reliably weave-match canvases cut from the same bolt of cloth (Van Tilborgh et al. 2012). This automated technique can be performed using normal light imagery of an unlined painting’s verso; x-radiography provides the opportunity to apply automated thread counting and weave matching to lined canvases.

References[edit | edit source]

MacBeth, R. 2012. The technical examination and documentation of easel paintings. In Conservation of Easel Paintings, edited by J. H. Stoner and R. Rushfield, 291–305. Abingdon, Oxon England: Routledge.

Van Tilborgh, L, T. Meedendorp, E. Hendriks, D. H. Johnson, C. R. Johnson Jr, and R. G. Erdmann. 2012. "Weave matching and dating of van Gogh’s paintings: an interdisciplinary approach." The Burlington Magazine 154 : 112–122.