Using a variety of scientific analyses, information on the structures and materials of a work of art can be obtained, along with its physicochemical properties and condition. Such research provides information necessary for deciding the direction of conservation treatment, preservation method, as well as control of the storage environment.
An X-ray fluorescence spectroscope (XRF) and X-ray Diffractometer (XRD) were used to identify the green pigment used in antique books, which led to the discovery of the fact that a new synthetic pigment called emerald green was used in the late Joseon Dynasty. XRF emits X-rays to measure and analyze the type and quantity of the components of a material. It is commonly used to analyze the components of metal sculptures and the mineral pigments used in paintings. XRD, emits X-rays on a sample to analyze the structure of a material by comparing the scattering pattern that results when the X-rays interact with the materials. The obtained structural information is then compared with the ones found in a database. This method is used to analyze the properties of the corrosion products found on metal sculptures, the crystalline structures of ceramics and earthenware, and pigments used in paintings.
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used to determine that brazing method was for attaching granules on a pair of gold earrings. SEM allows the user to zoom in on a micro-size material at 10,000x magnification, which enables identification of the components of the material (metal and inorganic matter) and their distribution. The attaching technique used on a metal jewelry, the structure of hanji, the distribution of corrosion on a metal artifact, the micro-structure of the glaze layer of a pottery ware and the surface of a paint layer are some of the information that can be obtained with a SEM.
The white efflorescence on the surface of an oil painting was analyzed using Fourier transform-infrared spectrometer (FT-IR) and it was discovered that it consisted of fatty acids. FT-IR irradiates the material in question with IR radiation as a means to assess the structure of the molecules. Information is obtained through observing the rotation and vibration of the chemical bonds that are unique to the material. Through this process, pigments and binder of a paint layer as well as of other oxidized inorganic and organic matter can be analyzed.
For a more in-depth examination of an artwork’s surface, a wide variety of microscopes are used. Video, stereoscopic and electronic microscopes are used for different purposes. A stereoscopic microscope yields good visual data of a cross section of a paint layer giving information on the order in which the layers were applied. Each layer can thus be analyzed independently. For instance, the cross-section of the paint layer of an outdoor sculpture by Alexander Calder was viewed under a microscope, and it was discovered that multiple coats of paint were applied over the original paint layer.