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The secret hidden in oil painting

  I came to the Danish National Gallery on a rainy spring day. This century-old building looks a bit low-key in the drizzle, but its majestic and majestic body gives people a sense of solemnity from a distance.
  At 9:10, the main entrance was not yet open to the public. I came to the staff passage, the white frame, inlaid with square glass, a simple door, revealing a modern Nordic style, as if a passage excavated from the heavy history, people pass through, and they return from the modern to the past.
  I reported my name to the security, filled out an information form, got a visitor card, and sat on the sofa at the door waiting.
  The employees arrived one after another—they did not need to go through any security checks. As the most secure museum in Denmark, the security measures here are all made in small details—the staff card is swiped first, and the system confirms it before taking it from the safe next to it. Keys needed to get in and out of the day. This is just one of the security measures. In addition, the general staff must provide a no-criminal certificate from the police station before entering the job; when the off-duty time is up, everyone must leave the museum and not stay for any reason. As for visitors, it is extremely rare.
  Luckily for me, my friend’s husband not only works in this museum, but is also the most mysterious and interesting department in it. His name is Dr. Gianluca Pastorelli, Dr. Bailu Ke, which is the protagonist of this story.
  At 9:40, Dr. Bai appeared. He has lived in Denmark for many years, and he still carries the warmth from Italy. On the way to his office, he naturally started chatting with me. The place we passed is the hinterland of the museum. Compared with the bright and orderly displays seen by the public, the “backstage” is more like a warehouse. Everywhere, we can see some wrapping papers and ropes that should be removed from the artworks. We climbed three flights of stairs in one breath and came to his department – CATS, Conservation and Art Technological Studies laboratory.
  Professor Bai’s academic background is that of an archaeological scientist, specializing in the study of amber. Much of the amber comes from the Baltic Sea region, so Professor Bo came to Denmark when he was studying for his doctorate. Amber is “rich” here, and at the same time there is a decline, so professionals are needed to find better preservation methods. At the same time, he also began to come into contact with substances other than amber, such as paper, plastic, glass, artificial synthesis, which are the materials contained in the artwork. Four years ago, by chance, Professor Bo joined this art research center hidden in the Danish National Gallery of Art.
  The place where Professor Bai works is simpler than I imagined. I only see one microscope and two X-ray analysis instruments. This is only a small part of the laboratory, Dr. Bai said, and there are many more instruments of various functions and sizes hidden in the museum, scattered in different corners. The works of art that these machines have handled are invaluable. There are nearly 9,000 oil paintings and sculptures collected here, and the works of world-renowned painters Rembrandt Harmansson van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, or well-known Nordic artists can be found here. authentic.

A corner of the laboratory.

Everyday tools for an art scientist

  That day, Dr. Bai was examining an oil painting from Wilhelm Hammershöy, a 19th-century Danish painter known for documenting everyday life. This A4 size oil painting was transported from downstairs to the laboratory by a gloved art conservator. Even if Dr. Bai was a staff member, he could only escort it and not touch it. The custodian placed the oil painting in a fixed position according to Dr. Bo’s instructions, and Dr. Bo began to control the X-ray equipment. The probe of the instrument should not touch the oil painting picture, but the distance should not be too far. After finding the exact position, the instrument starts sampling and collecting data. This process takes about two hours. After all the data was collected, Dr. Bo began to analyze the data. Generally speaking, he can complete the data processing of two small oil paintings every day on average.
  To a layman like me, Dr. Bai’s work can easily be equated with artwork identification. But Dr Bai politely corrected that, saying his role was more to provide art historians with answers through scientific analysis of works of art.
  ”What kind of answers are provided?”
  Professor Bai smiled gently, as if he was accustomed to any curious question. He explained that when we ordinary people look at a painting, we may only see colors and shapes. With the aid of books, art historians have a deeper understanding of paintings, such as the painter’s background, style, and the origin of the paints used. However, this information only comes from books, or is just a conjecture, and most of the content is unverified. In addition, how to maintain and preserve works of art also needs to know the composition and combination of works of art.
  I pondered what Professor Bai said, and suddenly remembered “A Dream of Red Mansions”. This classical masterpiece is like a famous historical painting. Scholars have written countless comments, but where is the exact address of the Grand View Garden? The recipes inside, such as the goose feet and duck letter, really taste so good? These questions can only be answered through research and experiments.
  Professor Bai is the role of doing research and experiments, but he uses knowledge of chemistry and physics. For example, for a French painter, the history books say that the pigments he used in a certain period came from Germany. Professor Bo will analyze the pigment composition of the painter’s works, and finally found that it was actually produced in Germany, which verified the conjecture of art historians.
  But don’t underestimate this kind of technology, because art masters like to leave a series of passwords in their works. If it weren’t for scientific and technological personnel like Dr. Bo, the secrets might have been hidden forever. Take Picasso’s 1902 work, The Crouching Beggar, for example, art historians have long known that there is another painting hidden beneath it. But whose work is that at the bottom? Why did Picasso do this?
  Professor Bai was one of the researchers who solved the mystery at the time. Together with his team, he scanned the picture with the most advanced X-ray equipment, and then analyzed the substances displayed by the research data, and finally found that the original picture below was from an unknown painter in Barcelona, ​​Spain. The painter’s painting inspired Picasso, So he painted a hunchbacked woman on the basis of the original landscape painting. The data also shows that under the woman’s coat, Picasso once painted an arm carrying bread, which was later painted off because of dissatisfaction. The participation of art scientists not only made the work of this unknown Spanish painter public, but also gave people a glimpse into Picasso’s thoughts and thought process when he created it.

  There are countless similar discoveries in Professor Bai’s career. If I have to choose the most memorable one, it must be the statue of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. In 2015, the area was deliberately damaged by the terrorist organization “Islamic State”, and the ruins were sent to Professor Bo’s laboratory for testing. After thousands of years of baptism, the color of the statue has long been eroded, and what the naked eye can see is only the original white-gray color of the stone. Originally, Professor Bai also thought that no color would be found in these remains, but when he put a sample smaller than dandruff under the microscope, he found a blue color, the main component being ultramarine.
  You know, this ultramarine was only produced in Afghanistan at the time. This means that the artists who made the idols started from Syria, passed through Iran and Iraq, arrived in Afghanistan to collect ultramarines, and then returned the same way. In the case of extremely underdeveloped roads, such a journey is comparable to the Tang monk’s study of Buddhist scriptures in “Journey to the West”. Those artists overcame such hardships for this touch of blue.
  However, no matter how amazing the discovery, no matter how sensational the world is, Professor Bo laughed at himself that he was still just an ordinary working class. This field is different from biology or physics, where all research is aimed at the Nobel Prize, so that there is fierce competition among scientists. Dr. Bai said that in his line, the circle is very small, and there are still hundreds of people who come and go every year at the international seminars, so everyone is very united and helps each other, and is willing to share any new discoveries.
  ”What is the greatest reward for you from this job?”
  Dr. Bai thought for a moment and said, “It may be that the students wrote to thank them, and the papers I have written are helpful to them.”
  Although museums are aware that technology can It plays a very important role in the appreciation of works of art, but the laboratory where Dr. Bai works will not be officially included in the museum until 2020. As far as I know, among the four Nordic countries, only the museum in Denmark has its own laboratory. However, he and his team are working hard to make more people understand the importance of combining technology and art. Before the new crown epidemic, they held a public open day, inviting the public and students to visit the laboratory.
  With the gradual development of the Asian Art Museum, Dr. Bai also met more and more art scientists from Asia. Last year’s international seminar was originally planned to be held in Beijing, but it was unable to catch up with the epidemic, so everyone could only meet online. Dr. Bai still looks forward to having the opportunity to exchange views with more Asian counterparts in the future.
  After the interview, we left Dr. Bai’s office, passed the “warehouse” in the backstage of the museum, and walked towards the exit. Professor Bai said that since he started working in the museum, he realized that the exhibitions that the public sees are only the tip of the iceberg, and that 85% of the museum’s collections are kept behind the scenes, which is an even more amazing treasure.
  Returning the visitor card, I thanked Dr. Bai for his time. As the huge body of the museum gradually disappeared from behind me, I kept thinking of the precious ultramarine blue mentioned by Dr. Bai, which fluttered faintly and lightly, like a kind of fire, giving hope to human civilization.

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