Getting to the Art of the matter! New scanner helps spot fakes with 12-hour-probing

The spectrometer was added to the LANBOZ museum laboratory, which provides information on the elemental composition of masterpieces from Kraków’s National Museum collection. Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

A scanning device that can help spot fake paintings is being put to work at the National Museum in Kraków.

The Spectrometer, worth 1,150 million złoty, scans a picture for 12 hours during which a list of elements found in the work is obtained, allowing conservators to determine, among other things, the type of pigments used to create the image.

The equipment worth 1 million 150 thousand PLN was purchased as part of the Princes Czartoryski Museum, National Museum in Krakow’s Past of the Future project. Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

It also shows how the artist created the work and, crucially, whether the image is authentic or was later retouched or corrupted, reports the online science portal Nauka w Polsce.

Katarzyna Novljakovic, head of conservation at the Princes Czartoryski Museum, which is part of the National Museum in Kraków said: "Modern laboratory tests are non-intrusive tests which allow for very accurate analysis of the image.

“Not only with its state of preservation, but also with the technological construction and materials used."

The Spectrometer scans a picture for 12 hours during which a list of elements found in the work is obtained, allowing conservators to determine, among other things, the type of pigments used to create the image.Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

Painting forgeries are surprisingly common in the art world. Museums are not immune; for them fake art can be an expensive mistake.

Last year, it emerged that more than half the art at the Musée Terrus, a small museum in southern France, was forged. The paintings had cost around 160,000 euros.

If a painting contains pigments that did not exist until centuries later, it is likely to be a forgery or to have been altered in some way.Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

Long the domain of forgery experts, art dealers and museums are increasingly turning to science to check whether a painting is fake.

In addition to paintings, the new spectrometer at the Princes Czartoryski Museum can scan other flat artefacts, just as coins, weapons and small sculptures.

This process offers a valuable insight into when the object was made.

Katarzyna Novljakovic, head of conservation at the Princes Czartoryski Museum, which is part of the National Museum in Kraków said that the new method is non-invasive, preventing damage to the works of art.Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie

For example, if a painting contains pigments that did not exist until centuries later, it is likely to be a forgery or to have been altered in some way.

Crucially, this method is non-invasive, preventing damage to the works of art.

The spectrometer will be put to work at the Museum’s Laboratory of Analysis and Non-Destructive Testing of Objects (LANBOZ).

Included among the works of art which have already been examined is an icon of the "suffering" Mother of God from the Czartoryski collection. Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

The first and best-equipped laboratory of this kind in Poland, it examines around 200 works of art per year using non-invasive methods.

The device has already been used to examine works from the Princes Czartoryski Museum’s collection, including Gustav Klimt’s "Judith with the head of Holofernes".