Friday, April 22, 2011

A Closer Look

“Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking”
 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Every object with age holds a story. Information about its maker and the people who have owned and lived with it though the years are imprinted upon its surface. Sometimes subtley in layers that require close examination to tease out the ghosts and sometimes not. Often the initial visual representation and impression an object presents, can be misleading and confusing.

Years ago when working at Caledonian Inc., Barry Heath said to me (and I paraphrase) "If the object raises one unexplainable question it's probably not a concern, at two you need to pay very close attention to all the details, at three... its best to walk away."

Direct visual examination of an object that requires "attention to all the details" can only tell you so much, so additional methods can be undertaken to reveal the unseen.

Ultraviolet Light
Objects examined in UV fluoresce differently depending upon their chemical make-up. Newer materials and surfaces disturbed by repairs are readily visible when viewed in the ultraviolet spectrum. It is a simple examination technique that can reveal a wealth of information in a short amount of time.

Pictured here is a stone sculpture from Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In visible light the sculpture appears primarily whole and complete but there were area's that begged for more attention and information. In UV light it was immediately apparent that time has taken its toll. Expertly restored it presents itself as close to pristine condition in visible light. A quick examination in ultraviolet reveals the truth.

The purple and yellow areas are newer materials, painted over the breaks and repaired losses on the surface of the sculpture. The original natural stone appears gray and unresponsive to UV radiation.

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Just like putting on a pair of "ready readers" to read the paper, looking at an object under magnification can tell you considerably more about its structure and detail.

Pictured here is an early 19th century Chinese shagreen eyeglass case.

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From Wikipedia:
In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the term "shagreen" began to be applied to leather made from sharkskin or the skin of a ray (probably the pearled ray, Hypolophus sephen). This form is also termed sharkskin or galuchat. Such skins are naturally covered with round, closely set, calcified papillae called placoid scales, whose size is chiefly dependent on the age and size of the animal. These scales are ground down to give a roughened surface of rounded pale protrusions, between which the dye (again, typically green vegetable dye) shows when the material is coloured from the other side.

A wonderful material...but more so when viewed at higher magnification.