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Lead isotope ratios and trace elements of lead white

The mapping of lead isotope ratios and trace elements of lead white can be a powerful tool to aid authentication of a work of art, and an indication if a work might be genuine or a forgery.

Lead white has been used as an artist’s pigment since antiquity. It is present in almost every painting throughout the centuries and has been replaced in the 19th century by zinc white and in the first quarter of the 20th century by titanium white.  The identification of trace elements and isotope ratios can be useful to identify the particular origin of the lead ore and age of the pigment.

The main focus of the database are the Northern and Southern schools of great masters, concentrating on the use of lead white in the Flemish/Dutch and Italian Schools of the 17th century with particular emphasis on the artist P. P. Rubens and his contemporaries.

White lead (2PbCO3·Pb(OH)2), is a common component in 17th century artists' paint. Minute samples taken from paintings from selected art collections worldwide are investigated using mass-spectrometry, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX). The high precision lead isotope abundance ratios were measured by multiple collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS) or with thermal ionization mass spectrometer (TIMS). Up to 11 trace elements are analysed with a mass spectrometer.

 Our ever expanding database includes more than 220 samples from 100 important old master paintings as well as 725 isotope ratios of lead ores originating from the most important European lead mines:

Allori, Alessandro; Asselijin, Jan; Barocci, Frederico; Bassano, Leandro; Belcamp, Jan van; Berchem, Nicolaes; Blin de Fontenay, Jean-Baptiste; Bramer, Leonaert; Bruegel, Pieter the elder; Brueghel Jan the younger; Brueghel, Abraham; Brueghel, Jan Pieter, Brueghel, Jan the younger; Brueghel, Pieter the younger; Cagnacci, Guido; Campi, Vincenzo; Caracciolo, Giovanni Battista (called Battistello); Champagne, Philippe de; Claesz, Pieter; D’Artois, Jacques; Dacin di Capella, Domenichino; El Greco; Fels, Elias ; Forabosco, Girolamo; Francanzano, Francesco; Francken, Frans the younger; Frank, Daniel; Gennari, Benedetto; Ghisolfi, Giovanni; Giordano, Luca; Goyen, Jan van;  Hagenbuch, Caspar; Hals, Frans; Hanneman, Adriaen; Hartmann, Daniel; Hartmann, Hans Anton; Hoffmann, Samuel; Honthorst, Gerrit van; Huchtenburg, Jan van; Hysmans, Cornelis; Jordaens, Jacob; Kalf, Willem; Kauffmann, Angelica; Kessel, Jan van; Lauri, Filippo; Lely, Peter; Lievens, Jan; Lint, Hendrick Frans v.; Lisse, Dirk v. d. ; Loir, Nicolas; Magnasco, Alessandro; Malo, Vincente; Mancadan, Jacob; Marcos (Armenian); Meit Conrat (attributed); Michaud, Theobald; Momper, Joos de and Teniers David the younger; Mytens, Aert; Mytens, Daniel; Neer, Aert van der; Netscher, Caspar; Olis, Jan; Palamedesz, Anthonie; Palma il Giovane; Pantoja de la Cruz, Juan; Paudiss, Christoph; Pedrini, Giovanni; Peeters, Bonaventura; Peschier, N. L.; Petrini, Giuseppe Antonio; Poussin, Nicolas; Preti, Mattia; Procaccino, Ercole the younger; Rembrandt; Reni, Guido; Ricci, Sebastiano; Roos, Jacob; Rosa, Salvator; Rubens; Rubens u. Snyders, Frans; Rubens, J. and. Breughel the elder; Rugendas, Georg Philipp; Ruisdael, Jacob Isaaks. Van; Saenredam, Pieter; Schoeff, Johannes P.; Sofonisbe, Aguisciola; Solimena, Francesco; Steenwyck, Hendrik v.; Stom Matthias; Streeck, Julian van; Thiele; Tintoretto, Domenicho; Titian; Torregiani, Bartolomeo; Uden Lucas van; van Dyck, Anthony; Veyel, Sylvester; Voss, Cornelis de; Wautier, Micheaelina; Wedig, Gottfried v.; Wouwerman, Philips; Wyck,Thomas.

The analysis was initially done at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) and is currently continued at the ETH Zurich.

We would like to thank the following institutions for their support:
Collection of HM Queen Elisabeth II
Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London
Denkmalpflege des Kantons St. Gallen
Galerie Koller, Zürich
Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles
Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge
Historisches Museum St. Gallen
Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique, IRPA, Brüssel
Kunsthaus Zürich
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien
Museum of Fine Art, Boston
National Gallery of Art, Washington,
National Gallery, London
Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florenz
Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, Den Haag
Rubenianum in Antwerpen
Sammlungen des Fürsten von Liechtenstein
Stedelijke Musea Antwerpen
Stiftung Sammlung E. G. Bührle, Zürich
Strauss Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge
Schweizerisches Landesmuseum
Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg
Vadiana, St. Gallen
Welti-Furrer Fine Art AG
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

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