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It has long been suspected that Botticelli worked with Filippino on 'Adoration of the Kings', but how can we tell which elements of the painting were painted by Botticelli, and which were painted by Filippino? 

In this episode, Restorer Jill Dunkerton and Scientist Marta Melchiorre show the techniques they used to investigate this, and reveal some of their surprising discoveries: 

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View time: 18:23

Methods and scientific techniques used in the investigation: 

Traditional connoisseurship: The ability to recognise an artist’s style through careful looking at paintings, based on a thorough knowledge of the works of that artist. In this case, this process was helped by the fact that the National Gallery Collection includes two more panels showing the Adoration of the Kings, one by Botticelli, and one by Filippino

Stereomicroscope examination: Allows us to observe the painting surface more clearly, under magnification. More than 200 photomicrographs of the painting were taken throughout this investigation.

Macro X-Ray fluorescence (XRF) scanning: A spectroscopic imaging technique used to map the distribution of chemical elements present in the paint at or below the surface of a painting. As different pigments contain specific elements (such as lead, copper, mercury, iron and so on) the XRF maps of these elements are useful to identify the composition and structure of various paint passages. This provides, in a non-invasive way, insight into an artist's painting technique and helps us to visualise changes made during the course of painting.

Infrared reflectography (IRR): Used to ‘see through’ paint layers that are impenetrable to the human eye. In this case, IRR enabled us to see through the paint layers to detect the underdrawing sketched out on the white gesso of the panel.

Reflectance imaging spectroscopy (RIS): A non-invasive spectroscopic imaging technique used to investigate and map the composition of painting materials in a way that is complementary to XRF scanning. The state of the art RIS system used for this investigation was built in-house at the National Gallery, it works in the 'deep' infrared range (up to 2500 nm), which improves the visualisation of underdrawings in areas not easily penetrated by wavelengths used for traditional reflectography (900-1700 nm).

3D scanning: High resolution 3D renders of the surface texture of the painting revealed areas where the paint had been scraped away, including one place where a knife had gouged the gesso.

Technical Bulletin

You can read about the Conservation and Scientific departments' research and investigation of this painting, in full, in Volume 41 of the Technical Bulletin.

Watch previous episodes in the series:

Behind the scenes in Conservation

Restoring Botticelli's 'Adoration of the Kings': Part one

Jill Dunkerton and Britta New find out what was hiding beneath a frame for nearly two centuries

Behind the scenes in Conservation

Restoring Botticelli's 'Adoration of the Kings': Part two

Watch Jill Dunkerton as she retouches a Renaissance masterpiece

Behind the scenes in Conservation

Restoring the Gallery's oldest painting

Kristina Mandy shows the steps involved in restoring a painting that is over 750-years-old

Behind the scenes in Conservation

Cleaning Rubens's 'Het Steen'

Find out what Larry Keith discovered when he removed 75 years’ worth of discoloured varnish from Rubens’s 'Het Steen'

Behind the scenes in Conservation

A structural repair of Rubens's 'Het Steen'

How will Britta New meet the challenge of repairing Rubens's fragile panel which has survived centuries' worth of restorations and one very severe frost?

Behind the scenes in Conservation

The Gallery during lockdown

Peek behind our closed doors, with Larry Keith
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Technical Bulletin

Volume 41

Read the latest volume of the National Gallery's acclaimed Technical Bulletin series, which includes the investigation of 'Adoration of the Kings'.
Buy online