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.

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