UAntwerp’s super scanners to uncover “Pearl Earring” secrets


The most advanced non-invasive technique to scan a painting in the world, developed at Antwerp University, is in play at Mauritshuis

New scanner used for first time

Antwerp University (UAntwerp) technicians are in The Hague this week scanning one of the most famous paintings in the world: “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. The painting hangs in the Mauritshuis in the city.

But it is currently in a glass enclosure being scanned with two of Antwerp’s state-of-the-art macro scanners. Developed by scientists at the university in co-operation with Delft University in the Netherlands, the scanners allow art conservationists to peer under layers of paint without laying a hand on the painting.

This is crucial for “Girl with a Pearl Earring” because the painting is very delicate. Curators are having the scan technique carried out to try to discover more about 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer’s methods and materials. They also want to know more about the original colours as the colours have darkened and faded over the centuries.

Antwerp has used its Macro-XRF scanner before – including to help with the conservation of “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” altarpiece in Ghent. It is being used in The Hague, but UAntwerp is also introducing a new scanner – the MA-XRD.

“This is the first time we have used this brand new macro X-ray diffraction scanner,” Geert Van der Snickt of UA told VRT. “While our XRF as efficient at detecting layers of paint, the new MA-XRD goes a step further. It can detect degradation, so we can see which layers have become discoloured or are flaking. This is invaluable information when it comes to conserving a painting.”

Photo courtesy Indebuurt Den Haag/Twitter