UVF: Night at the Museum

I thought I would start my series of posts about the scientific methods we used for the study of the marbles with Ultraviolet Fluorescence Imaging (UVF imaging). Works of art are regularly examined under ultraviolet light because it reveals restorations, retouches, varnishes as well as some colour pigments, which have characteristic fluorescence under UV. (Ultraviolet light is often called ‘black light,’ something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever set foot in a night club.)

UVF examination and imaging needs to be done in the dark, so we worked in the small x-ray suite in the conservation lab. There are no windows there, and by closing the door, we had all the darkness we needed to look at the small marble objects (they were taken out of the galleries for the study). However, for the large sculptures (which could not be moved), we had to be in the museum galleries at night! That was a little strange…

Simple UV examination can be done with a hand-held UV lamp, which you shine on the work of art as you look at it closely (wearing protective goggles). UVF imaging necessitates a digital SLR camera equipped with UV filters set up on a tripod. The camera is controlled by a computer and photos are taken when UV light is shone on it (either with large lamps, as in the case of Hercules, or hand-held flash with a UV filter). With the photographs, you then have a record of the fluorescence of the pigments and other surface treatments and their location.

Doing UVF was like travelling back to the 80s: the ultraviolet lights, the neon colours, the bright white, and the music playing from my iPod. We had a blast! As I have had this incredible urge to watch Blade Runner since we looked at Hercules under UV on June 22, I put it on my Netflix list… and the DVD arrived today. Enjoy the post and pictures while I watch Harrison Ford and Sean Young in this 1982 sci-fi movie.

Is this thing set to stun?

I’m exhausted. The last two weeks have been rather hectic, to say the least. There were several evenings when I didn’t get home until after 11pm… We’ve worked very hard on the classical marbles: we’ve examined the statues like we’ve never done before at the museum and used some weird equipment, too—it was great fun!

I’m too tired to go into details right now, so I thought I would share photos today and describe the various studies in later posts when I’m actually awake and coherent.


Hercules Under UV

A quick post to show you what I have been doing today with Mark (the marble guy) and Elizabeth (the student working with him). We spent the day with Hercules down in the bowels of the museum, illuminated by ultraviolet lights. No pigments on him, but under UV you can also see repaired breaks and whatever might be present on the sculpture’s surface (organic material, shellac, etc…).

All this 80s ultraviolet and industrial stuff makes me want to watch Blade Runner!

Searching for colour!

This week, I’m entirely focused on the Classical marbles in the NCMA’s collection and we’re doing some pretty cool stuff: we’re searching for colour on the marble sculptures! I’m working with Mark Abbe, asst. prof. of ancient art at the University of Georgia, Athens—a specialist of marble statuary and ancient polychromy. I’ll keep details for later when I can actually show you photos of us in action when I post on Untitled, the NCMA blog; however, I want to let you know that I have a good excuse for being somewhat silent at present!