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article imageDecoding the mysteries of da Vinci's paintings with proteomics

By Tim Sandle     Aug 28, 2019 in Science
Scientists have used the technique of proteomics to assess the paint blends used in a painting supervised by Leonardo da Vinci. The exercise paves the way for improving the restoration and validation of older paintings.
An assembly of Italian, Israeli and Russian researchers has applied an analytical technique to decipher the combination of materials used to mix the paint applied to a paining called ‘Donna Nuda’. The painting was completed by an unaccredited student of da Vinci’s, under the master's supervision.
The research tool used is proteomics, which is the large-scale study of proteins and proteomes (the entire set of proteins that is produced or modified by an organism or system). Technologies in this filed can be used for different functions, such as assessing when and where proteins are expressed.
Leonardo da Vinci was associated with the ‘Renaissance’ period of art, which refers to the reimagining of artistic techniques used in the times of Ancient Greece and Rome, as well as refocusing in similar subject matter (often portraits) intended to reflect humanity placed in a more lifelike setting. This period spanned the fourteenth to the sixteenth century.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was interested in a range of subjects, from science, music, mathematics and engineering, and also various art forms including sculpture and painting. Of his paintings, The Last Supper, located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy, is said to be the most reproduced religious painting of all time. With his painting, his methods and choice of paints were often secretive.
To understand more about the paints, the researchers used a ethylene vinyl acetate polymer, containing anion and cation exchangers, to create sections of film. These films were then applied to different sections of the painting. The films were then removed and analyzed by gas-chromatography/mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry, according to the website Biotechniques.
The analysis revealed a number of unusual compounds used in the paints, such as linseed oil, conifer resin, rosemary oil and egg yolk, each used to help form colors and textures.
Going forward the researcher believe their new technique can be used to assess the age and authenticity of paintings, and also for helping to restore damaged paintings.
The research has been published in the Journal Of Proteomics and it is titled "Leonardo's Donna Nuda unveiled".
More about Da vinci, Art, proteomics, Biology
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