Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tibetan Art and High Technology

This is the Philadelphia Museum of Art's top scientist, Beth Price: a pioneer in the examination of artwork by means of forensic technology. In 2006, Dr. Price began creating a database for the dating and authentication of Tibetan painted artifacts, using tools such as Fourier transform infrared micro-spectroscopy, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, x-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy using secondary and back-scattered electron imaging, and energy and wave dispersive spectroscopy. She is also exploring a timeline of the introduction of non-native pigments into Tibet.

Her first project was the conservation of a painted Tibetan altar, acquired in 2004. The process is well documented on the museum's web site, and worth close study by everyone with an interest.

Since Dr. Price's Tibetan database has now grown to be the largest of its kind in the world, the Philadelphia Museum has become the "go to" laboratory for Tibetan art, and furniture. In the latter case, there is an enormous amount of fakery, with supposedly "antique Tibetan" pieces selling for high sums on world markets. Among other discoveries, the museum has determined that Chinese forgers are applying charcoal and resin to the surface of modern polyvinyl acetate paint to artificially create the appearance of age.

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