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Is art-connoisseur yet another job threatened by technology?

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THE patient is carefully positioned on a pristine rectangular table. A signal is given, and from behind a glass wall, a technician directs an X-ray machine overhead. Zapping begins. This is not a hospital. It is the conservation laboratory of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Visits here were part of the museum’s recent two-day symposium “Jewellery Matters”, which broke ground by inviting artists, makers, scientists, educators and collectors as well as the usual art historians.

The patient was a fanciful 17th-century pendant having its enamel analysed in order to find the actual date of its creation. In the 19th century demand for such pieces outstripped supply, and fakes (some magnificent) were produced to satisfy the market. Was this one of them?

The same X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) equipment could be used to study a 16th-century Indian bronze statue, a Roman glass vase or a leaf from a medieval illuminated manuscript. As one technician describes it, it works this way: A precisely targeted beam enters the object…Continue reading

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