One of the most momentous revolutions in Art happened in the 15th century: The transition from tempera to oil painting in Italy marked the beginning of the great period of Renaissance art and the creation of some of the most revered masterpieces of all time. Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Leonardo da Vinci, are examples of artists who were shifting away from the use of predominantly egg-based tempera to the use of oil. But how did this transition occur? The simplistic assumption that pigments were solely either mixed with egg or oil-based binding media has been rejected. Artists continued to use egg in parallel or in combination with oil, and prepared paints and binding media of complex chemistry, which is still not understood today. Scholars have been studying this transition in art history for centuries, however, their approach was based on the visual examination of paintings, and, in the last years, on binder analysis of paint samples. Until today, we are missing the critical knowledge on the chemical composition and microstructure of such mixed media paint layers.
The overarching goal of ARIAH (Chemical speciation of A Revolution In Art History) is to discover the molecular and atomic-level chemical composition of organic binders in original Renaissance artefacts and map the distribution of their constituents at the nanoscale, to understand the revolution of painting techniques in Renaissance Italy. To achieve it, we will employ cutting-edge synchrotron-based x-ray techniques (x-ray Raman scattering (XRS) and scanning transmission x-ray microscopy (STXM), in combination with mass spectrometry.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101068115.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union.
Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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