When works of art are brought to the labs, there is not only the opportunity to restore them, but it is also possible to discover more about their history and construction. One piece of equipment that is especially helpful in this regard is the Mass Spectrometer. This technology allows for researchers to discover the origins of the art, including where the marble was quarried for statues and if multiple paintings were completed by the same workshop. As of this past week, the Vatican Museums is now in possession of their own Mass Spectrometer, thanks to the generosity of the California Chapter.
The Scientific Research Laboratory is already using the instrument, so that they can answer questions about some of the most important works in the Vatican’s collection. The Mass Spectrometer is so precise, it can actually identify all the elements of the periodic table! How this works is that each chemical element has a trace on it that the machine can identify, similar to the way we use fingerprints. This technology will not only help with quarried marble, as mentioned above, but also elements such as gold and iron, making it very beneficial to the Metal and Ceramics Lab. Even more importantly, the restorers will now have a better idea of the time period in which objects were created. This will help when assessing whether or not a fragment is authentic, or something was an addition in a later period.
Here in the Museums and in the Labs we are grateful to the California Chapter for their generous sponsorship of the Mass Spectrometer. This scientific machine will only help the restoration teams with their work, but it will also be beneficial in the discovery of historical details. We hope you are all as excited as we are about the work this machine can enable!