Scientists have developed a camera that will help restorers accurately repair old paintings and masterpieces. The camera will allow experts to tell the difference between old varnish and other materials, such as paints and binders.
The camera was developed by a team at King’s College London’s Department of Physics. They say that the new technology will revolutionise the restoration of historic works of art through easier identification and greater accuracy.
The research team developed a 25,000-pixel photon sensitive camera that uses a technique called macroscopic fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) to harness the natural fluorescence in centuries-old varnish. Each pixel has a stopwatch that measures when the light from a surface enters it.
“By comparing the fluorescence of the varnish to these other components, we can chart where varnish sits with a level of accuracy never previously achieved,” Professor Klaus Suhling told The Guardian.
“Most paintings created before the late 19th century have been varnished many times, making them appear dull or yellowed as the varnish degrades,” he explains. “To make the image visible again, it may be necessary to remove that varnish – but it can be a big challenge to differentiate this from the underlying paint and other components within the painting.”
The old method of restoration was done by shining a UV lamp on the art work, and then assessing by eye. This way of working involved a high degree of expertise, experience, and often a lot of guess work.
The camera itself is not expected to cost a lot once developed for market. It is based almost entirely on existing smartphone camera technology. “It’s very bespoke [now] but in the future I think it will be relatively low cost,” says Suhling.
The hope is that the new camera will greatly aid restorers in preserving historical works of art for future enjoyment and historical purposes. Photographers have long found inspiration from the Old Masters.
Indeed, the camera could be helpful avoiding future restoration disasters such as the fresco of Christ dubbed ‘Ecce Mono’ a few years ago in Spain. One villager took it upon herself to ‘restore’ the ancient mural, resulting in a hilarious monkey-esque image.
[Via The Guardian]