Art as Evidence: The Scientific Investigation of Works of Art
Scientific investigation of works of art can provide information about authenticity and attribution, as well as insight into the artists' techniques. This information not only contributes to the scholarly interpretation of art and artifacts, but also assists in the development and evaluation of conservation treatment programs, and enhances the understanding of the nature and behavior of the materials from which the works of art are made.
Scientific technologies have made it possible to examine and analyze art works from the macro down to the nano scale. How are these scientific investigations changing the kinds of questions we ask about works of art? Are these investigations being driven by what science can do, or by what questions curators and conservators need answered? What happens when scientific research reveals information that challenges the accepted interpretation or authenticity of specific works of art?
On December 1, 2009, in an event organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, a panel of experts discussed the impact of scientific analysis on how we understand, interpret, and care for art.
David Bomford (Moderator) is associate director for collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum. He is the author of numerous books and papers on conservation and art history, including five catalogs in the award-winning Art in the Making series, on Rembrandt, Italian painting before 1400, Impressionism, Underdrawings in Renaissance Paintings, and Degas.
Terry Drayman-Weisser is director of Conservation and Technical Research at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. She has been involved with training conservators from Iraq, especially in treatment of ancient, flood-damaged Nimrud ivories, and is currently working on a project to establish a conservation training program. She recently received the ICOM-US Service Award for her work in Iraq.
Melanie Gifford has served as research conservator for painting technology in the scientific research department at the National Gallery of Art since 1992. Her research considers the artistic decision-making process with particular focus on Dutch and Flemish painters, including Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Chris McGlinchey is the Sally and Michael Gordon Conservation Scientist at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He is adjunct professor of conservation science at New York University's Conservation Center and visiting lecturer at the Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía in Mexico City. In January he received a 2009 Heritage Preservation Award for Distinction in Scholarship and Conservation from the College Art Association.
Last updated: January 2010