Event: FRIDAY SEMINAR: Material History: New Insights from the Study of Ancient Binding Media, Tutankhamun’s Dagger, and Red Lake Pigments

Date & Time

October 12, 2018 - 4:00pm to 6:00pm
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Contact Information

Sumiji Takahashi

Phone 310-825-4169


Dodd 275

Event Type

Friday Seminar

Event Details

Dr. Austin Nevin
CNR Researcher, Politecnico Milano

Binding media, metals and pigments in works of art are material history - and are evidence of technology, artist practice, exchange and trade. Through the study and identification of materials, crucial data can be collected regarding physical and chemical stability thus informing conservation decisions. Three case studies of works of art and archaeological materials will draw on current research using portable instrumentation and cutting-edge analytical methods. Investigations on wall painting fragments from the ancient Canannite capital Tel Kabri allowed the identification of degraded binding media from the Aegean style wall paintings that date to the 18th C. B.C.E. The discovery of traces of organic media in the characteristic blue paint is significant for the conservation and treatment of the paintings, for understanding of the sophistication of painting practise and the use of egg-based binding media in the Eastern Mediterranean, and more broadly also questions the presence of domestic animals in the region. The second case study focuses on Tutenkhamun’s dagger that was analyzed using portable instrumentation at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. New data established conclusively that the well-conserved ornamental blade was fashioned from finely worked meteoritic iron. The identification was possible though the comparison of data acquired from the dagger with known meteor samples, and the calculation of ratios of Nickel and Cobalt. Organic red lake pigments are the focus of the third case study. Analysis demonstrates how deep crimson pigments from European insects were adopted by Leonardo in the Last Supper, and how, by contrast, Veronese adopted newly introduced Mexican pigments from cochineal insects. The molecular characterization of cross-sections demonstrate the use of similar kermes-based lakes in paintings by Leonardo and Masolino, and carmine-based reds in paintings by Tintoretto and Veronese, while also revealing soluble uncomplexed dyes in samples that has direct implications for conservation, cleaning and lighting. Research will ultimately demonstrate the benefits of synergistic collaborative studies across disciplines.