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Science & Technology Concentrates

September 7, 2009
Volume 87, Number 36
p. 53

Bronze Sculptures Mix Chemistry And Art

Scientists and art curators use elemental analysis to study bronze sculptures, helping to establish art origins and casting techniques

Mitch Jacoby

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Head of a Woman (Fernande), a bronze sculpture by Picasso. Art Institute of Chicago
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"Head of a Woman (Fernande)," a bronze sculpture by Picasso.

Using an analytical elemental analysis technique to study the composition of bronze sculptures, a team of U.S. scientists and art curators is helping to establish correlations between the artist, foundry, age, and casting method by which the works of art were created (Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 2009, 395, 171). The correlations stemming from this first known survey of the chemical makeup of a large number of bronze sculptures may aid in identifying, dating, and authenticating other bronzes of uncertain origin, according to Marcus L. Young and David C. Dunand of Northwestern University and coworkers at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The team analyzed copper, zinc, tin, and other elements in 62 bronze sculptures by using inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy. The results fell into three data clusters—high-zinc brass, low-zinc brass, and tin bronze—that are associated with specific artists, foundries, and casting methods. For example, the high-zinc brass cluster, which has the highest levels of zinc and tin, includes most of Pablo Picasso's sculptures. That cluster also correlates independently with sculptures made in the mid-1900s, by the so-called lost-wax casting method, and at the Valsuani foundry in Paris.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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