Skip to main content


Screenshot 2023-03-28 091113.png

N. Guarnieri, M. Ghirardello, S. Goidanich, D.Comelli, D. Dellasega, M. Cotte, E. Fontana and L. Toniolo, “Imaging and micro‑invasive analyses of black stains on the passepartout of Codex Atlanticus Folio 843 by Leonardo da Vinci”, Scientific Reports, (2023).

XRD micro-analyses (ID13 and ID22, through the historical materials BAG) and µXANES analyses (ID21) have been combined with laboratory imaging techniques to identify the nature of black stains present on the passepartout close to the margins of Folio 843 of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus. Instead of the microbiological deterioration which was formerly proposed, black nano-particles of metacinnabar (β‑HgS) have been identified as the component of the black staining.


V. Gonzalez, I. Fazlic, M. Cotte, F. Vanmeert, A. Gestels, S. De Meyer, F. Broers, J. Hermans, A. van Loon, K. Janssens, P. Noble, K. Keune, “Lead(II) Formate in Rembrandt's Night Watch: Detection and Distribution from the Macro- to the Micro-scale”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. (2023).

X-ray powder diffraction mapping at multiple length scales revealed the unusual presence of lead(II) formate, Pb(HCOO)2, in several areas of The Night Watch, Rembrandt's most famous painting. A possible chemical pathway resulting in the formation of this compound in historical oil paint was explored via micro-analysis, notably using synchrotron radiation. New clues on the reactivity of metallic driers in oil systems were thus gathered.

molecules-27-01997-ag.pngCotte M, Gonzalez V, Vanmeert F, Monico L, Dejoie C, Burghammer M, Huder L, de Nolf W, Fisher S, Fazlic I, Chauffeton C, Wallez G, Jiménez N, Albert-Tortosa F, Salvadó N, Possenti E, Colombo C, Ghirardello M, Comelli D, Avranovich Clerici E, Vivani R, Romani A, Costantino C, Janssens K, Taniguchi Y, McCarthy J, Reichert H, Susini J. The “Historical Materials BAG”: A New Facilitated Access to Synchrotron X-ray Diffraction Analyses for Cultural Heritage Materials at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. Molecules (2022)


The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) has recently commissioned the new Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS). The gain in brightness as well as the continuous development of beamline instruments boosts the beamline performances, in particular in terms of accelerated data acquisition. This has motivated the development of new access modes as an alternative to standard proposals for access to beamtime, in particular via the “block allocation group” (BAG) mode. Here, we present the recently implemented “historical materials BAG”: a community proposal giving to 10 European institutes the opportunity for guaranteed beamtime at two X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) beamlines—ID13, for 2D high lateral resolution XRPD mapping, and ID22 for high angular resolution XRPD bulk analyses—with a particular focus on applications to cultural heritage. The capabilities offered by these instruments, the specific hardware and software developments to facilitate and speed-up data acquisition and data processing are detailed, and the first results from this new access are illustrated with recent applications to pigments, paintings, ceramics and wood.


N. Oriols, N. Salvadó, T. Pradell, N. Jiménez, M. Cotte, V. Gonzalez, S. Butí, "Carbonation of fresco mural paintings with a dolomitic mortar", Cement and Concrete Research, Volume 157 (2022).


An innovative approach involving a collection of experiments to mimic and assess the different conditions (at selected time-pH-[Mg2+]-humidity) existing during the carbonation process in dolomitic mortars is proposed with a combination of micro-analytical imaging techniques, namely: optical and electron microscopy, micro-Fourier-Transform Infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy and synchrotron-based micro X-ray diffraction. The carbonation process was studied from short time scale to long time scale and from simple aqueous saturated solutions to fresco mock-up samples. These techniques allowed identifying both crystallized and amorphous components and revealing their in-depth distribution in multi-layered systems. The presence of Mg2+ influences the microstructure and composition of dolomitic mortars, resulting in the presence of aragonite concurrent to calcite. In later stages, i.e. once Ca2+ has transformed into carbonate, brucite can lead to the formation of magnesium carbonates and hydroxycarbonates. The results contribute explaining the lability of old dolomitic mortars observed in historical fresco paintings.


M. Ghirardello, V. Gonzalez, L. Monico, A.Nevin, D. MacLennan, C. Patterson, M. Burghammer, M. Réfrégiers, D. Comelli, M. Cotte, "Application of Synchrotron Radiation-Based Micro-Analysis on Cadmium Yellows in Pablo Picasso's Femme", Microscopy and Microanalysis, 1-10 (2022).


The cultural heritage community is increasingly exploring synchrotron radiation (SR) based techniques for the study of art and archaeological objects. When considering heterogeneous and complex micro-samples, such as those from paintings, the combination of different SR X-ray techniques is often exploited to overcome the intrinsic limitations and sensitivity of the single technique. Less frequently, SR X-ray analyses are combined with SR micro-photoluminescence or micro-Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy, which provide complementary information on the molecular composition, offering a unique integrated analysis approach. Although the spatial correlation between the maps obtained with different techniques is not straightforward due to the different volumes probed by each method, the combination of the information provides a greater understanding and insight into the paint chemistry. In this work, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the combination of X-ray techniques and SR-based photoluminescence through the study of two paint micro-samples taken from Pablo Picasso's Femme (1907). The painting contains two cadmium yellow paints (based on CdS): one relatively intact and one visibly degraded. SR micro-analyses demonstrated that the two Cd-yellow paints differ in terms of structure, chemical composition, and photoluminescence properties. In particular, on the basis of the combination of different SR measurements, we hypothesize that the degraded yellow is based on nanocrystalline CdS with high presence of Cd(OH)Cl. These two characteristics have enhanced the reactivity of the paint and strongly influenced its stability.