Monday, February 18, 2008

"The Most Beautiful Drawing inthe World"

People generally don't think of Birmingham, Alabama as a destination city for art, but there's now a good reason for art afficionados to plan a visit this Fall:

The Birmingham Museum of Art has just announced that between September 28 and November 9, 2008 it will be host to one of the most significant collections of Leonardo da Vinci drawings. This will be the first time the Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) in Turin, Italy has made the collection available, in its entirety, outside of Italy.

Among the most celebrated of the Turin sheets is the preparatory sketch of the angel for the first version of the Madonna of the Rocks (ca. 1483), originally intended for a chapel altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. Its powerful and expressive silverpoint parallel hatching led art critic and connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) to describe it as the “most beautiful drawing in the world.

The works date from about 1480 to 1510 -- the most fertile period of da Vinci's career --and demonstrate his acutely observant, imaginative, and intellectual faculties. The collection includes one of his most celebrated notebooks, the Codex on the Flight of Birds, and 11 important drawings, including anatomical studies and utilitarian working drawings; one sheet includes a fragment of a poem. They are executed in a variety of media, including chalks, metal point, and pen and ink—some on color-prepared paper.

Quite a coup for the Birmingham Museum, and worth a trip.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Going Beneath The Surface

X-ray technology is used in the art world to see beneath the surface of paintings, and under plaster on walls, to document the artist's process and to find lost works. This is done despite the fact that x-rays can damage the organic pigments ... I presume, because the learning is deemed to outweigh the risks.

According to the Discovery Channel, however, there’s a benign form of electromagnetic radiation that is beginning to be used in the art world. Most of us have never heard of T-rays (terahertz rays), although the technology has been in use by electrical engineers for decades. The new technique should be able to detect particular pigments in old artwork that other types of scans miss -- such as sanguine, a reddish-brown color that Flemish painters often used.
Right now T-ray images are only generated in black and white, but scientists are working on developing the technology to produce color images. From what I understand there are just two T-ray machines currently being used for scanning art, and only one of them is portable. Researchers at the University of Michigan are planning on using it to find murals hidden beneath layers of plaster in centuries-old churches in France.
I'd wager that we're going to be hearing alot more about T-ray scanning projects in coming years.