Lines and Colors art blog

New 3D scanners reveal the artist’s hand in historic works

Van Dyck portrait examined by 3d Coform Mini Dome
Who painted that? Who drew that? Who sculpted that?

The question of attribution has long been problematic for art historians and conservators. A change in the attribution of a work from a highly ranked artist to a lessor one, or to the “workshop of” or “circle of” the master, or the reverse elevation of a work from a lesser status to the hand of the master, can change the fortunes of museums, galleries and collectors literally overnight.

Sometimes new works by a master are “discovered” in the guise of previous attribution to a less important creator (see my recent posts on Velázquez – also here, and Leonardo). Other times a well known and loved work may be reattributed to a student rather than the master, lowering its monetary value, but not diminishing its beauty (see my posts on Marie-Denise Villers, and here and here).

As time goes on, new techniques and particularly new technologies have been developed that make the process of attribution less one of guesswork, and more one of scientific enquiry.

A new tool called Mini Dome from a scientific group known as 3D-Coform, is a hemispherical arrangement of lights, cameras and filters tied into computers systems. It is being employed to create detailed three dimensional scans of the surface of paintings, as well as sculpture and other art objects.

In the case of paintings, the scans evidently allow such detail and resolution that they permit investigators to see several layers of paint application and determine from that and other factors the artist’s process, another clue to the origin of the work.

The painting above, a portrait of 17th century painter Anthony van Dyck, was long thought to have been painted by Van Dyck’s teacher, Peter Paul Rubens.

The new examination shows it to more likely have been a self portrait by Van Dyck himself, based on the analysis and the known differences in the processes by which he and Rubens worked.

(The look in the eyes in the portrait say self-portrait to me, having “that look” that I think is particular to self portraits, but that’s intuition, on which the new process is supposed to help reduce reliance.)

There is a more detailed description of the process on both The Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

The same process is being used to monitor small fractures in Michelangelo’s David, and to determine if another sculpture, the Pietá de Palestrina, can be attributed to the master.


One response to “New 3D scanners reveal the artist’s hand in historic works”

  1. Hello,

    Just a message to signal another process digital scan. It is not 3D, but he sees a broader spectrum of light than the human eye …

    It is here :

    A + and thank you for your blog