An early 16th century choirbook from Italy, depicting an illustration of St. Peter and assembled saints.
Portable x-ray fluorescence has found another application in cultural heritage research at Cornell. Over the course of three days in late February, the Landscape and Objects Laboratory’s portable XRF system was used to examine twenty-seven European illuminated manuscript fragments in the Cornell Library Rare and Manuscript Collections. Dr. Louisa Smieska, a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), collaborated with Ruth Mullett, Medieval Studies graduate student, and Dr. Laurent Ferri, Curator of Pre-1800 Collections, to complete the study.
Detail of 15th century manuscript copper and barium distribution.
This survey was aimed at identifying the pigments used in the lavishly decorated pages in Cornell’s collection. The team was particularly interested in the blue pigments, and in metallic areas that could be gold. Twenty-three of the manuscripts examined contained copper-based blue pigments, which are probably dominated by the copper-rich mineral azurite. Some of these manuscripts will be examined further at CHESS later this spring to try to determine whether the other trace minerals in azurite blue regions reveal information about the pigment’s provenance. Three manuscripts yielded XRF spectra that could indicate the presence of the precious and costly blue mineral lapis lazuli; these fragments will need to be examined further to confirm this finding. One manuscript contained smalt, a ground cobalt glass, which is an unusual (but not unheard-of) pigment for illuminations.
In contrast with the scarcity of costly blue pigments in these manuscript fragments, eighteen of the twenty-one fragments with metallic regions contained gold. Although today gold is considered particularly valuable, the relative cost and rarity of lapis lazuli when these fragments were prepared may have been greater than gold. The survey also identified metallic regions containing tin, which could indicate mosaic gold, a synthetic tin sulfide pigment. The research team is excited to compare this pXRF data with other spectroscopic analyses in the coming months.
The Landscape and Objects Laboratory’s portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) system has once again visited the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Dr. Louisa Smieska, a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) whose studies focus on materials analysis of cultural heritage objects, was recently trained in pXRF data collection at the LoL. On January 15, 2016, Dr. Smieska collaborated with Dr. Andrew Weislogel, the Askin curator of Earlier European and American Art at the Johnson Museum, to collect XRF data from selected regions in several 17th-century Dutch paintings and one 20th-century.
The goal of the study was to survey the pigments used to create these very different paintings, with a particular interest in the blue pigments. Several possible blue choices were available to 17th-century painters, including plant-derived indigo, copper-rich azurite, ground cobalt-rich glass (smalt), and the precious aluminosilicate mineral lapis lazuli (natural ultramarine). Knowing which one was used is important for understanding the original expense of the painting, since ultramarine was much more costly than the other options. Identifying pigments can also hint at how the original composition might have looked, since the color of indigo and smalt can fade over time.
Dr. Louisa Smieska (CHESS) and Dr. Andrew Weislogel (Johnson Museum) use the pXRF to examine van Schrieck’s Still Life with Thistle (ca. 1670).
Pictured are Dr. Smieska and Dr. Weislogel collecting pXRF data from a c. 1670 painting by the Dutch artist Otto Marseus van Schrieck. The blue thistle blossoms in this picture are painted with a copper-containing pigment, possibly azurite. The pXRF analysis of other locations in this painting indicated that the green pigment used in the thistle leaves is also copper-based, while the bright red details in a few of the butterfly wings are painted with a mercury-containing pigment, most likely vermilion. The results from this afternoon of analysis will be used to identify paintings that could be good candidates for scanning x-ray fluorescence imaging at CHESS in the next few months.
As part of the course on the “Rise and Fall of Civilization”, the Civilization of Llhuros materials created by Norman Daly were back in the LOL for students to measure, describe, and interpret. The Cornell Chronicle has a story on the class and on the Llhuros Project here.
Prof. Adam T. Smith examines a Llhoroscan artifact with Jordan Silver ’16
RadioCIAMS taping with (from L to R): Shannon Dawdy, Kurt Jordan, Perri Gerard-Little, Chris Monroe, Nick Lashway, Cynthia Kocik, and Catherine Kearns
RadioCIAMS held it’s second “Conversation in the LOL” on Friday March 14 when we welcomed historical archaeologist and recent MacArthur Foundation Fellow Shannon Dawdy from the University of Chicago to chat about ruination, the archaeology of modernity, and the situation of the discipline in the early 21st century. The conversation proved to be provocative, illuminating, and always engaging. Listen on the RadioaCIAMS page. Stay tuned for more!
The Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies kicked off its new RadioCIAMS podcast series with a conversation in the LOL with Dr. Joanna Sofaer. The discussion ranged from contemporary movements in bioarchaeology to the secrets of long-term collaborative research.
RadioCIAMS taping with (from L to R) Joanna Sofaer, Betty Hensellek, Liana Brent, Christopher Monroe, Nerissa Russell, Alex Marko, and John Gorczyk
You can find the podcast on the RadioCIAMS website.
As part of the 4th Eurasian Archaeology conference, held October 11-13 at Cornell, the LOL hosted a welcoming reception for guests from across North America and around the world, including visiting scholars from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, England, Georgia, Germany, and Mongolia. You can find the full program at: http://eac.arts.cornell.edu/
Ezra Magazine has published a profile of Lori Khatchadourian and the LOLaboratory in their summer 2012 issue.
The new Landscapes and Objects Laboratory in McGraw Hall, built for Near Eastern studies assistant professor Lori Khatchadourian and anthropology professor Adam T. Smith, is serving as a hub for archaeological conversation across the university. The lab builds on Cornell’s strengths in archaeology and offers a new resource for the interdisciplinary work of archaeology, which bridges the social, humanistic and natural sciences.
Read the full text here.
Welcome to the homepage for Cornell University’s Landscapes and Object Laboratory.
Located in McGraw Hall, the LOL is dedicated to the analysis and interpretation of archaeological materials. Our projects focus on exploring the role of the material world–from landscapes and places to assemblages and singular artifacts–in human social life.
This web site is intended to provide news of LOL events, synopses of current projects, access to public data sets, and resources for LOL team members.