In the pink: UK' National gallery is happy to discover its £34m masterpiece is not fake

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Thursday, 10 June, 2010 - 23:00

Scientific tests on a rediscovered painting by Raphael by IIC Fellow Ashok Roy have dispelled suspicions that it might not be the work of the Renaissance artist.

From the Times of 11th June 2010:

"Samples from the canvas of The Madonna of the Pinks revealed details of its composition that confirmed it could not have been a 19th-century fake, as some critics had claimed.

Ashok Roy, IIC Fellow and director of scientific research at the National Gallery, told The Times Cheltenham Science Festival yesterday that the tests, which became possible only after the gallery acquired the work, promised to settle controversy over its attribution. “We are now able to say with even greater confidence that this painting was not a 19th-century fake,” Dr Roy said.

The Madonna of the Pinks is to be the centrepiece of Close Examination, a National Gallery exhibition that opens on June 30. It explores how scientific techniques have been used to identify fakes, rediscover original paintings by Old Masters, and detect and restore later alterations to important works.

The Madonna, which was owned by the Duke of Northumberland, was thought to be a copy of a lost original. In 1991 Nicholas Penny, now director of the National Gallery, identified it as a genuine Raphael after investigations prompted by its elaborate frame.

Infra-red scans offered supporting evidence for the attribution and revealed an underdrawing typical of Raphael. It also showed that the artist had altered the original design, which would be unlikely if the work were a copy.

The National Gallery was able to conduct only non-invasive tests that did not involve sampling, however, because it did not own the painting, and critics such as the late James Beck, of Columbia University, were unconvinced. In 2004 the National Gallery raised £22 million to buy the work, with the Government waiving a further £12 million in tax, to prevent its sale to the Getty Museum in California.

The acquisition allowed sampling analysis, Dr Roy said, with results that strengthened the attribution to Raphael. “What we couldn’t do before acquiring the painting was to take samples for analysis,” he said. “We’re able to say we can be really sure this isn’t a 19th-century painting.”

Two new pieces of evidence came to light, Dr Roy said. First, samples taken from sections of blank canvas obscured by the frame were examined to investigate the priming material used.

It was a mixture of lead white, ground glass and a pigment called lead-tin yellow. “The recipe for lead-tin yellow was lost in the 17th century,” Dr Roy said. “It simply isn’t something you could find in a 19th-century fake.”

The second piece of evidence concerned the probable discovery of a pigment based on the metal bismuth, used for a silver-grey detail on the sleeve of The Madonna. Bismuth is a rare pigment confined to early 16th-century central Italian painting, and is known to have been used by Raphael.

The Close Examination exhibition will also show how advanced scientific techniques have been used to investigate many other works, including the Portrait of Alexander Mornauer, by an unknown 15th-century painter, which was altered to resemble a work by Hans Holbein. "

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