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3D imaging software aids understanding of 19th Century painting techniques

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Through the use of 3D imaging software the Swiss Institute for Art Research (SIK-ISEA) is studying the studio practice of Swiss painters of the late 19th and early 20th Century, the materials they used for their paintings, and the deterioration processes the paintings undergo as they age. Amongst other issues this study is looking at the paintings’ grounds, which are mixtures of binding media, fillers, and pigments applied to a suitable support as a preparation for painting. In particular it has set a focus on the possible connection between the porosity of grounds, their absorption characteristics, the overall appearance, and the stability of the paintings.

Recent research at the Art technology department of SIK-ISEA in collaboration with Tomcat beamline at PSI Villigen has shown that X-ray tomography is a uniquely powerful method to study the internal structure in intact ground samples. The 3D tomographic data sets are being studied using Avizo software, which enables visualisation and quantitative analysis of the data sets by providing appropriate filtering algorithms and advanced segmentation tools. The current research challenge is twofold and lies in estimating precisely the distribution of voids and pores and the connectivity of the porosity network at a micrometer scale, and visualising the impregnation and transport of moisture through the ground.