X-ray Fluorescence Analysis of Iron Gall Inks, Pencils and Coloured Crayons

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Hahn, Oliver; Malzer, Wolfgang; Kanngießer, Birgit;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 50, p.23-32 (2005)


The qualitative and quantitative investigation of historical writing materials using micro X-ray fluorescence analysis (micro-XRF) is a suitable method for obtaining 'composition fingerprints' of different inks and coloured crayons. The quantitative analysis is based on a model that takes into account the heterogeneity and the layer structure of historical samples. Starting from these composition fingerprints, it is possible to distinguish between different iron gall inks used by an individual artist in order to establish a chronology of their use and, furthermore, to date unknown fragments that have not been integrated into the oeuvre of an artist until now. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of several manuscripts of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe clarify the chronology within the genesis of these works. Investigation of Achim von Arnim's manuscript 'Studien zu Naturwissenschaften' indicated that various degradation mechanisms of iron gall inks could also be related to different inorganic compositions. Further measurements on coloured crayons in Friedrich Nietzsche's notebooks reveal that it is possible to distinguish between different notes written by Nietzsche and his successors. Finally the analyses of two different pencils from Goethe's work shows that it might be possible to distinguish between sketches completed before and after 1800.