Faculté des sciences et de médecine

Unexpected presence of 14C in inorganic pigment for an absolute dating of paintings

Beck, Lucile ; Messager, Cyrielle ; Caffy, Ingrid ; Delqué-Količ, Emmanuelle ; Perron, Marion ; Dumoulin, Jean-Pascal ; Moreau, Christophe ; Degrigny, Christian ; Serneels, Vincent

In: Scientific Reports, 2020, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 9582

The absolute dating of paintings is crucial for tackling the problem of fake art. Investigations to authenticate paintings rely on an advanced knowledge of art history and a collection of scientific techniques. Radiocarbon dating is the only technique that gives access to an absolute time scale, but its application is limited to organic materials such as wood, canvas or natural binder.... More

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    Summary
    The absolute dating of paintings is crucial for tackling the problem of fake art. Investigations to authenticate paintings rely on an advanced knowledge of art history and a collection of scientific techniques. Radiocarbon dating is the only technique that gives access to an absolute time scale, but its application is limited to organic materials such as wood, canvas or natural binder. Extending absolute dating to inorganic pigments would make it possible to overcome the lack of available materials for dating easel and mural paintings. Here, we present a novel technique permitting paintings that contain inorganic pigment to be radiocarbon dated. We report results obtained on lead white that was the major white pigment used from Antiquity to the 20th century. We demonstrate that its manufacture is the key point for an absolute and reliable dating. We report an unprecedented use of 14C to date 14th to 16th century wall paintings. Since lead white was extensively used by the greatest artists, we anticipate that this study will open new avenues for detecting forgeries on the art market and for museums.