June 22, 2019

Art and Science

Chemistry and art history students learned to appreciate the overlap of art and science when they collaborated on projects that focused on the Wright Museum of Art’s permanent collection.
  • Chemistry major Sarah Farr’19 shoots a handheld X-Ray fluorescence analyzer at a painting in the Wright Museum of Art’s permanent collection.
    Todd Anderbyrne

Chemistry major Sarah Farr’19 took her turn shooting a handheld X-Ray fluorescence analyzer at Venus at the Forge of Vulcan, an 18th century Dutch oil painting, part of the Wright Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The tool measures metal concentration, which provides information about a painting’s age through pigment composition.

Farr was enrolled in an Instrumental Analysis of Art and Artifacts class, taught by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kristin Labby, which collaborated with Italian Renaissance Painting, a class taught by Assistant Professor of Art History David Boffa. Students learned to appreciate the overlap of art and science when the classes worked together on multiple activities, such as making paint from scratch using pigment and binders. The metal analysis activity had students researching the painting’s history to generate research questions and identify areas of the painting to analyze before they started using the handheld XRF instrument.

“While we, fortunately, did not reveal any major fakes or forgeries within the collection, we gathered valuable information that mostly confirms the attributions of the paintings we analyzed,” says Labby.


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