Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science

Multi-isotopic analysis of early modern art

Linking origin, trade and production of raw materials with provenance research

Is it possible to objectively determine where and when works of art were produced? It might be, by establishing a geochonology of the metals used in the manufacturing process of these objects. This multidisciplinary project will combine geochemical analysis with the production and trade history and verify the data by studying a reference collection of objects with well known provenance and different age. An important innovative aspect of the project is the relation it makes between isotopic analysis, historical trade and the extraction of raw materials on the one side and the specific places of production of objects on the other. Studies so far have emphasised the extraction aspect, largely ignoring the implications for object provenance of the complexity and dynamics of trade. The project will develop new analytical methods that minimise sample size and that are able to measure multiple isotope systems at high sensitivity. Statistical methods and network analysis will be used to relate characteristic isotope patterns to a specific provenance. The effectiveness of the system that is developed will then be tested using the systematically assembled reference collection.

Gareth Davies

Portable laser system of the geology and geochemistry group of the VU Amsterdam. Effectively the laser, used to sample metal objects, makes a hole that is invisible to the human eye so that the instrument can be used to sample museum quality artefacts.

Project acronym


Principial investigator

  • Prof. dr. G.R. Davies (VU Amsterdam)

Co-Principal investigators

  • Prof. dr. U. Brandes (Universit├Ąt Konstanz)
  • P. Noble (Rijksmuseum)
  • Prof. dr. F. Scholten (Rijksmuseum, VU Amsterdam)
  • Prof. dr. J. Wadum (University of Amsterdam, Statens Museum for Kunst & Centre for Art Technologial Studies and Conservation Copenhagen

Research team

  • J. van Bennekom MSc (Rijksmuseum)
  • Dr. E. Hermens (University of Glasgow)
  • J. van Iperen (Rijksmuseum)
  • Dr I. Joosten (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands)
  • Dr. K. Keune (Rijksmuseum, University of Amsterdam)
  • Dr. J. Koornneef (VU Amsterdam)
  • Dr. Annelies van Loon (University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology)
  • A. Pappot MA (Rijksmuseum, University of Amsterdam)
  • Dr M. Richter (University of Glasgow)
  • Prof. dr. A. Wallert (Rijksmuseum, University of Amsterdam)

Participating institutions

  • Centre for Art Technologial Studies and Conservation Copenhagen
  • Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Rijksmuseum
  • Statens Museum for Kunst
  • TIA Systems Ltd.
  • Universit├Ąt Konstanz
  • University of Amsterdam
  • University of Glasgow

Want to know more?

Please click here for project updates and background information.

Published by  NICAS

6 April 2017