• Adoration of the Magi :: c.1340
  • Artist: Master of the Blessed Clare of Rimini, Italian
  • Repository: Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The National Gallery of Art & George Washington University Develop a New Conservation Software Tool

Conservators, conservation scientists and technical art historians use a variety of imaging techniques to study and analyze how a particular painting was constructed, and how it might have changed or been altered over time. These imaging techniques include visible color images, X-ray radiographs, and near infrared images, called infrared reflectograms. Each of them offers different information and insight into the history of the work of art: X-ray images, sensitive to pigments such as lead white, reveal compositional changes; infrared reflectograms can uncover images of preparatory sketches beneath the paint layer.

Work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has focused on improving the quality and resolution of infrared reflectography[1]. Imaging Scientists at the Gallery, working with Image Processing Engineers from the School of Engineering & Applied Science at George Washington University, have recently developed a software tool that uses the information intrinsic in visible color, x-ray and infrared images to automatically align these three images nearly perfectly[2]. This new approach is more effective and intuitive than prior registration tools, and the resulting aligned image sets allow conservators and art historians to see more clearly and coherently changes made by the artist and by time.

Using the Bernard van Orley painting, Christ Among the Doctors, c. 1513, (in the Kress Collection at the National Gallery of Art), as an example, the moving image below demonstrates the utility of this new tool, in addition to the improvements made in infrared reflectography. (The IRR image was created by an InSb camera with a 2050 to 2400 nm spectral band pass filter, and spatial resolution of 290 dpi at the painting's surface.):

Van Orley animated gif

To examine the painting in greater detail, launch the viewer below. One is able to move between the registered image layers – visible color, x-ray radiograph, and infrared-reflectorgram. This oil painting on wood panel, has another painting on the reverse side, Putto with Arms of Jacques Coëne, which is visible in the x-ray layer.

van orley button


[1] Delaney, John K., Ricciardi, Paola, “An improved high resolution step/stare infrared camera system for multispectral infrared reflectography for paintings and drawings”, paper in preparation (2011).

[2] Damon M. Conover, Delaney, John K., Ricciardi, Paola, Loew, Murray H., “Towards Automatic Registration”, Computer Vision and Image Analysis of Art II, Proceedings of SPIE Volume: 7869 (2011).


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