Art Conservation and Pigment Analysis with Handheld XRF

Among the many challenges in art conservation, artwork analysis and related research that can be met with portable XRF analysis technology is the analysis of inorganic pigments. Pigments can largely be identified based on their qualitative elemental make-up. For example, vermilion (a bright red pigment made from the mineral cinnabar) is composed primarily of Hg (mercury) and S (sulfur), while cadmium red (a pigment that produces a similar range of hues as vermilion) is composed primarily of Cd (cadmium), S (sulfur), and Se (selenium). Using the Bruker Tracer handheld portable XRF analyzer to obtain qualitative spectral data from a pigment sample, a conservator or other researcher can easily obtain compositional information about the pigment in question, including being able to quickly resolve such questions as whether a pigment is vermilion or cadmium red. Contact our knowledgeable, specialized Art Conservation & Archaeology Team to learn more about the Tracer and to set up a workshop on XRF physics and art conservation.

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Tracer III-V analyzing a painting

The Bruker Tracer for Non-Destructive Pigment Analysis

Bruker's Tracer series is small and highly portable, and can be used in the lab or in-situ. You can take the Tracer to a fresco in Italy, a cave painting in Mexico, or a painting hanging in a museum gallery. The Tracer  series can analyze a large variety of different inorganic pigment samples to garner basic information about their composition, including:

  • Raw pigment chunks or powders
  • Mineral samples
  • Pigment/paint on rock surface
  • Pigment/paint on ceramic (If pigment is covered in a Pb glaze, pigment analysis may not be possible)
  • Pigment/paint on canvas, gesso, etc.
  • Pigment/dye on textiles
  • Pigment in colored glass
  • Pigment/ink on paper
  • Pigment on organic samples such as animal hide, human skin (non-living only), wood, etc.

Most importantly, XRF (x-ray fluorescence) is a non-destructive analytical technique, which allows you to use it on the most sensitive samples without worrying about your object’s safety. Used in hundreds of museums and universities worldwide, the most precious paintings and archaeological samples are entrusted to the Bruker Tracer every day. Contact our experts to find out how Bruker can help you meet your analytical challenges!

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