Researchers Discover Unusual Compound in Famous 17 th-Century Painting

The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

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The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn,1642 Credit: Rijskmuseum Amsterdam

Scientists from the Rijksmuseum, CNRS, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of Antwerp made an uncommon discovery of lead formate in Rembrandt’s The Night Watch This first-ever discovery in painting research study uses a brand-new understanding of 17 th-century painting methods and the preservation history of the art work. The findings were released in the journal Angewandte Chemie– International Edition

The Night Watch, a renowned work of art by Rembrandt is presently housed in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in TheNetherlands The painting, finished in 1642, underwent its largest-ever research study and preservation task in 2019, referred to as Operation NightWatch An worldwide group of scientists studied the chain reactions and aging of the painting products throughout this task.

Crystalline Phases Distribution Obtained via Structural Imaging on an Area of the Night Watch

Crystalline stage circulation acquired through structural imaging on a location of The Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Credit: Antwerp X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Research group– University of Antwerp, Belgium

The group of researchers integrated multi-scale imaging approaches in order to chemically study the products utilized by Rembrandt in The Night Watch An X-ray scanning instrument established at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) was used straight to the painting, while small pieces drawn from the painting were studied with synchrotron micro X-ray probes, at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (France), and PETRA-III center (Germany). These 2 kinds of analyses exposed the existence of an unanticipated organo-metallic substance: lead formates.

This substance had actually never ever been identified prior to in historical paintings: “In paintings, lead formates have only been reported once in 2020, but in model paintings (mock-up, fresh paints). And there, surprise: not only do we discover lead formates, but we identify them in areas where there is no lead pigment, white, yellow. We think that probably they disappear fast, this is why they were not detected in old master paintings until now”, describes Victor Gonzalez, CNRS scientist at the Supramolecular and Macromolecular Photophysics and Photochemistry (PPSM) lab (CNRS/ENS Paris-Saclay) and very first author of the paper.

Ida Fazlić

Ida Fazli ć, aPh D. trainee at the ESRF and co-author, throughout the experiment performed at the European Synchrotron on small painting samples. Credit: ESRF/ Stef Cand é

Why did this one not vanish then? For Katrien Keune, head of science at Rijksmuseum and teacher at the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands), this finding is crucial to understanding Rembrandt much better: “In Operation Night Watch we focus on Rembrandt’s painting technique, the condition of the painting and how we can best preserve it for future generations. The lead formate gives us valuable new clues about the possible use of lead-based oil paint by Rembrandt and the potential impact of oil-based varnishes from past conservation treatments, and the complex chemistry of historic oil paintings.”

What is the origin of this substance? Can it supply info on Rembrandt’s workshop dishes, or clarified the chemical systems active in the layers of old paint? To response these concerns, the researchers studied pieces drawn from The Night Watch and design samples prepared in the lab imitating the painter’s formulas.

They dealt with the hypothesis that Rembrandt utilized a natural medium (linseed oil) consisting of liquified lead oxide (PbO litharge) to boost its siccative residential or commercial properties. “Thanks to the unique analytical performance of the ESRF, the world’s brightest synchrotron light source, we could map the presence of formates at a micrometric scale, and follow their formation over time”, describes Marine Cotte, a researcher at the ESRF. The spatial company of the substances at the micro-scale and the characteristics of their solution made it possible for the scientists to recommend brand-new hypotheses on the chemical conditions of their in situ formation in old paint layers.

“In addition to providing information on Rembrandt’s pictorial techniques, this research opens up new avenues on the reactivity of historical pigments, and therefore on the preservation of heritage”, describes Koen Janssens, Professor at the University of Antwerp.

The next action for the group is to additional research study the origin of these formates and see if they might likewise stem from previous repair treatments.

Reference: “Lead( II) Formate in Rembrandt’s Night Watch: Detection and Distribution from the Macro- to the Micro- scale” byDr Victor Gonzalez, Ida Fazlic,Dr Marine Cotte,Dr Frederik Vanmeert, Arthur Gestels, Steven De Meyer, Fr éderique Broers,Dr Joen Hermans,Dr Annelies van Loon,Prof Koen Janssens, Petria Noble andProf Katrien Keune, 2 January 2023, Angewandte Chemie– International edition
DOI: 10.1002/ anie.202216478

Note: This research study gain from an assisted in gain access to offered to the historic products neighborhood to the synchrotron methods at the ESRF, which has actually been executed with assistance from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research study and development program under grant arrangement No 870313, Streamline.