Agilent Uncovers an Art Forgery

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Agilent’s role in art conservation.  During my research, I found a fascinating story that is worth a separate post.

For decades, the National Gallery in London had displayed a painting called “The Virgin and Child with an Angel.”  The work was especially prized for being the earliest known dated painting by Italian artist Francesco Francia – it was faintly signed and dated “1490.”

Then, in 1954, an identical version of the masterpiece appeared at an auction.  The National Gallery needed to determine which of the two paintings was Francia’s original.

The controversy was settled thanks to an Agilent GC/MS system.  A sample of yellow paint taken from the National Gallery’s copy was analyzed and found to contain a synthetic pigment that was only commercially available after 1818.  A sample of red paint similarly contained a pigment that was probably manufactured in the 19th century.

Further analysis by microscope, X-ray and infrared reflectography concluded that London’s painting was indeed a fake.  Today, the National Gallery classifies its copy as “After Francesco Francia, probably second half of the 19th century.”  The original – from the 1954 auction – resides in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Penn.

You can see a photo of the disputed painting here.


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