Using Science to Reveal the Mysteries of Art

Dr Cecile Charbonneau and team used advanced scientific techniques to examine the painting. The team analysed and observed small samples recovered during the restoration of the oil canvas. The artist had used a blue pigment in the portrait which proved the key to finding out more.

The team identified Indigo as the blue pigment used in the painting through the deployment of a series of analytical techniques. This helped them gain a better understanding of when the portrait was painted. This is due to the fact that it’s known when Indigo blue was used throughout art history. Following on, scientists were able to work with conservators to uncover the identity of the mystery artist.


The project has been a multidisciplinary endeavour. The team have been able to reveal the untold history of the painting by combining scientific techniques with art expertise. It’s a great example of science and art working together to further knowledge.

Visitors can participate in the interactive exhibit, viewing the portrait, examining cross sections of paint samples with an optical microscope and exploring the forensic fine arts investigation.


Cecile commented, “The ambition is to emphasize the chemistry and materials science content of the exhibition. It highlights the value of studying science in Higher Education and relevance to so many professional fields. The exhibition displays a variety of microscopy images acquired during the forensic investigation of the samples. This illustrates the power of scientific imaging in unravelling mysteries of the past.”

View the Exhibition


The exhibition, “Indigo: Collections, Conservation, and Chemistry” opened on 22nd September at the Glynn Vivian, Swansea.


This exhibition is a partnership with Swansea Council’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and Swansea University. Funded by a grant from The Royal Society of Chemistry Outreach Fund, with support from Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea Council, SPECIFIC, Beacon, Swansea University, with support from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and European Regional Development Fund.

Dr Cecile Charbonneau, Senior Lecturer, Materials Science and Engineering, SPECIFIC Senior Management Team, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Swansea University
Katy Hebborn, Research Engineer, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Swansea University
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