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Shades of green in 15th century paintings: combined microanalysis of the materials using synchrotron radiation XRD, FTIR and XRF


A representative selection of green paintings from fifteenth century Catalonia and the Crown of Aragon are analyzed by a combination of synchrotron radiation microanalytical techniques including FTIR, XRD, and XRF. The green pigments themselves are found to be a mixture of copper acetates/basic copper acetates and basic copper chlorides. Nevertheless, a broader range of green shades were obtained by mixing the green pigment with yellow, white, and blue pigments and applied forming a sequence of micrometric layers. Besides the nature of the pigments themselves, degradation and reaction products, such as carboxylates, formates and oxalates were also identified. Some of the copper based compounds, such as the basic copper chloride, may be either part of the original pigment or a weathering product. The high resolution, high brilliance, and small footprint of synchrotron radiation proved to be essential for the analysis of those submillimetric paint layers made of a large variety of compounds heterogeneous in nature and distribution and present in extremely low concentrations.

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  1. Currently the MNAC attributes this work to the master of Sant Joan i Sant Esteve.


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This research project was funded by: EU (FP7/2007-2013), in the proposal SM6521 (MIRIAM beamline) at Diamond Light Source, EC-805 (beamline ID21) at ESRF; Spanish CRG, under grants 16-01-709/16-01-733 (beamline BM16) at ESRF.

N. Salvadó and S. Butí received financial support under MICINN (Spain), grant HAR2009-10790 and under Generalitat de Catalunya, grant 2009SGR01251. T. Pradell received financial support under MICINN (Spain), grant MAT2010-20129-C02-01 and under Generalitat de Catalunya, grant 2009SGR01225.

Part of this work was carried out within the framework of agreements of collaboration between the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and the “Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya” (MNAC) and the “Centre de Restauració de Béns Mobles de Catalunya” (CRBMC). We wish to thank the VINSEUM Museum for their collaboration in the study and for the access given to sampling of the altarpiece.

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Correspondence to Nati Salvadó.

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Salvadó, N., Butí, S., Cotte, M. et al. Shades of green in 15th century paintings: combined microanalysis of the materials using synchrotron radiation XRD, FTIR and XRF. Appl. Phys. A 111, 47–57 (2013).

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  • Calcium Oxalate
  • Yellow Pigment
  • Paint Layer
  • Fifteenth Century
  • Copper Acetate