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While X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy is a well-established technique for the investigation of paintings, the apparatus used are usually custom built and not widely available. Now, Matthias Alfeld and colleagues have developed a portable macro XRF spectrometer to look at paintings in situ.
The team used the device to look at a portrait by Govert Flinck, a Dutch painter who was a protégé of the great Rembrandt. Interestingly, they found that originally the subject was painted wearing a broad bobbin lace collar and long lace cuffs but this was toned down for the final version, possibly because it was too trendy.
The device also made it possible to visualise Flinck’s first sketches on the canvas before he got to work with the paint. The authenticity of this particular painting was never disputed but being able to see sketches is a good indication of whether a painting is an original or a copy.
Which paintings would you like to look at with the device? I wonder how many fake Van Goghs could be uncovered?