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Drilling Holes In To One Painting To Look For Another. Hmm…

Drilling into a Vasari painting to look for a da Vinci. Credit: National Geographic.

This blog devotes a lot of digital real-estate to cool experiments on art and artifacts that are non-invasive, or at least minimally so.

So I’ve got to admit that I was not particularly overwhelmed by the breathless reports last week in a myriad of media about a project to drill 14 holes into a Vasari painting in order to search for a possibly hidden da Vinci below.

The articles were subsequent to a press release by National Geographic on March 12, which was presumably trying to raise interest in a documentary about the project airing a few days later (March 18).

Yesterday the well-respected Art-Info published an interesting take-down of the drilling project, entitled “The Search for the Lost Da Vinci Fresco: Serious Science or Irresponsible Hype?”

The piece pointed to a protest-petition against the project signed by 530 members of the museum community, including high-profile curators at the Met and the Louvre.

According to the Art-Info article, none of these critical folks got face-time in the National Geographic Channel documentary. This is how the writer Kate Deimling put it:

“”Finding the Lost Da Vinci,” which aired on the National Geographic Channel on March 18, certainly looked like an infomercial for the project. The program’s narrator describes opposition to the drilling as a “media feeding frenzy” and an “attack from the press,” but none of the experts opposed to it is interviewed or even mentioned by name. Instead, scientists in lab coats decry the opposition to their work and are then seen boring holes into the painting while dramatic music plays.”

The Art-Info piece also voices criticism from the conservation science community, namely that the pigments detected by the drilling project might be from brick instead of paint.

Another criticism is that non-invasive analytical equipment (such as newer radar technologies) should be used instead of destructive drilling.


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  • Mar 29th 201217:03
    by Rick Mullin


    Glad you brought attention to this. Sheer madness. What would da Vinci think of scientists doing this to art? Such experiments illustrate a complete lack of any regard for, or understanding of the purpose of, art. This is no different than Patricia Cromwell destroying a painting by Walter Sickert to prove that Sickert was Jack the Ripper. Not only was an important painting destroyed, but a guy who should be know as a great painter is now mostly known to the person on the street as Jack the Ripper(suffice it to say, Walter Sickert was not Jack the Ripper).

    Item 2: Why perform any experiment to see if the Vasari painting is done on top of a da Vinci, especially when you have no regard for or understanding of the purpose of art?

  • Jul 26th 201218:07
    by Dream


    I think stop reading the hype and leave the painting alone.

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