First insights into Chinese reverse glass paintings gained by non-invasive spectroscopic analysis—tracing a cultural dialogue

Abstract

This work presents a technical investigation of two Chinese reverse glass paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A multi-analytical, non-invasive approach (X-ray fluorescence (XRF), diffuse reflectance infrared Fourier transform spectroscopy (DRIFTS), Raman spectroscopy) was used to identify the pigments and classify the binding media. The results reveal a combined use of traditional Chinese and imported European materials. Several pigments like cinnabar, lead white, orpiment, carbon black and copper-arsenic green (probably emerald green) were found in both paintings; red lead, artificial ultramarine blue, Prussian blue and ochre appear in at least one of the paintings. The proof of limewash (calcite and small amounts of portlandite) as a backing layer in Yingying and Hongniang indicates that clamshell white was also used for reverse glass paintings. Drying oil was classified as a binding media in most areas of both paintings. However, the orange background of The Archer yielded prominent bands of both proteinaceous and fatty binder.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Sebastian Simon and Birgit Meng for providing us reference material and background information on limewash and portlandite. We are grateful to Heike Stege for helpful comments on the manuscript.

Funding

The project “Hinterglasmalerei als Technik der Klassischen Moderne 1905–1955” is funded by the Volkswagen-Stiftung, Hannover “Forschung in Museen” reference 89921.

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Steger, S., Oesterle, D., Mayer, R. et al. First insights into Chinese reverse glass paintings gained by non-invasive spectroscopic analysis—tracing a cultural dialogue. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 4025–4034 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00799-3

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Keywords

  • Reverse glass painting
  • Non-invasive analysis
  • Pigment identification
  • XRF
  • Raman spectroscopy
  • DRIFTS
  • Limewash
  • Emerald green