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April 17, 2013

Technology helps uncover hidden Roman painting

painting with overlayed data scan
Scientist used terahertz technology to detect the painting of a face of an ancient Roman man hidden below the surface of a 19th century fresco in the Louvre Museum, Paris. “We were seeing what likely was part of an ancient Roman fresco, thousands of years old,” says J. Bianca Jackson, a postdoctoral research associate in the Institute of Optics.

Scientists have used an imaging technology called terahertz technology, like that used in airport whole-body security scanners, to detect the painting of a face of an ancient Roman man hidden below the surface of a 19th century fresco in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

“No previous imaging technique has revealed a lost image in this fresco,” says J. Bianca Jackson, who reported on the project at a meeting of the American Chemical Society and who has recently joined the University’s Institute of Optics as a postdoctoral research associate. “This opens to door to wider use of the technology in the world of art, and we also used the method to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of humanity’s first settlements in what was ancient Turkey.” The results of the latter experiment are reported in Optics Express.

Terahertz technology is a type of radiation that is already used in airport scanners and does not damage paintings and does not involve exposure to harmful radiation. Jackson adds that “its use in examining artifacts and artworks is relatively new.”

She was previously at the Institute Lumière Extrême at Ècole Polytechnique in Paris and worked there on this new technique with Gerard Mourou (formerly of Rochester’s Institute of Optics). Jackson says they were delighted when they saw what was below the 19th century fresco. “We could not believe our eyes as the image materialized on the screen, “ she says. “We were seeing what likely was part of an ancient Roman fresco, thousands of years old.”

She says she hopes to further develop her research under the guidance of Xi-Cheng Zhang, director of the Institute of Optics and the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics; Jannick Rolland, the Brian J. Thompson Professor of Optical Engineering; and Renato Perruchio, professor of mechanical engineering and of biomedical engineering and program director of Archaeology, Technology, and Historical Structures.

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