Born in the eastern German city of Halle, Anna Schönemann grew up in Potsdam, the youngest child of historian parents—her father's field was art and architecture, and her mother's field was early German film. Discussions at home often focused on art, and Anna learned early the value of looking carefully at things and attempting to interpret them. She developed an interest in science in high school and decided to pursue it, in part to do something different from what her parents did. She attended the University of Halle-Wittenberg and in 1990 received her master's degree in chemistry.
Because of the familiarity with art she gained from her family background, Anna, even before completing her degree, contemplated a career in conservation science. She spent three months as an intern in the analytical laboratory of the Foundation for Prussian Palaces and Gardens in Berlin-Brandenburg and, following graduation, was hired full-time by the foundation. Much of her research focused on pigments and binding media used on a variety of 18th- and 19th-century polychrome objects, work that increased her knowledge of historical technologies. During the early 1990s she also consulted on a number of field projects involving architectural polychromes and wall paintings in northern Germany. She enjoyed the variety of materials and historical places involved in her work, as well as the opportunity to meet new colleagues.
In 1995 she was made head of the foundation's analytical laboratory. The following year—while working full-time—she began Ph.D. studies through the University of Vienna, ultimately completing her doctorate in 2001 with a dissertation on spectroscopic and chromatographic investigation of binding media used in art objects.
In March 2002 she attended the Fifth International Infrared and Raman Users Group conference, which was hosted by the GCI. Prior to the conference, a GCI staff member suggested that she apply for the open scientist position in the Institute's Museum Research Laboratory, and while at the Getty, she interviewed for the job. In October 2002 she joined the staff.
Much of Anna's GCI work involves pigment analysis of paintings, research that helps provide greater understanding of painting techniques. She is also studying oil-resin varnishes used on paintings, furniture, and walls in the 18th century. She appreciates working in an environment with such a variety of analytical equipment and with so many colleagues on siteMuch of Anna's GCI work involves pigment analysis of paintings, research that helps provide greater understanding of painting techniques. She is also studying oil-resin varnishes used on paintings, furniture, and walls in the 18th century. She appreciates working in an environment with such a variety of analytical equipment and with so many colleagues on site—a situation quite different from her work in Germany.