Department of Chemistry Chair Dr. Patricia Lang and Ball State student Heidi Noneman have been working on taking paint samples from the Christ sculpture in Museum of Art’s west gallery of Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Baroque art. These samples will be used to identify which pigments on the sculpture are original as well as which pigments were added after it was originally made. Using Infrared spectroscopy, Dr. Lang and Noneman are able to determine what kinds of pigments were used based on the chemical compositions of the samples.
Infrared Spectroscopy is a scientific process that uses infrared light to activate the molecules in the paint samples. The wavelength emitted by these pigments is measured and the data provided is then used to determine the chemical structure of the pigments and other materials that have been used to sculpt the figure (base layers, fabrics, etc.). Each pigment has its own chemical signature that helps to date the object and verify where the pigments were made.
According to Noneman, the first step in this process included extensive research about the history of the Christ sculpture (1225 in Catalan, Spain), the iconography of the time period, and the common pigments used. The next step was to identify the range of pigments they were looking for as well as the best locations on the surface to scrape off small samples for testing. Collecting a sample with as many layers as possible will give a good approximation of the number of times the figure has been painted over.
The information gained from this project will advise the Owsley Museum of Art about the work of arts history and the steps needed to restore the sculpture back to its original state. Dr. Lang has also worked on two other restoration projects for the museum including analysis of the Male Saint and Saint Wolfgang. The Male Saint and the Christ figure are currently on view in the West Gallery on the upper level.