The Center offers imaging services to meet two distinct needs: to examine artworks in preparation for conservation, and to document items before and after treatment.
Before beginning work, conservators may employ a number of imaging techniques to explore the layers of an artwork that are visible and invisible to the naked eye. Some of these approaches employ standard digital photography and specialized lighting, while others involve equipment capable of producing or capturing electromagnetic wavelengths above or below the narrow band of the visible spectrum. WACC provides all approaches, including:
- Diagnostic photography in raking and reflective light
- Long-wave ultraviolet photography
- Infrared photography
Diagnostic photography provides useful evidence of the surface condition of artworks. Ultraviolet imaging reveals fluorescence of materials, indicating their composition and age. Infrared inspection reveals hidden aspects of a work of art, especially preparatory underdrawing. Radiography, or X-ray analysis, records structural elements otherwise impossible to inspect.
X-rays are created with a digital Lorad system, among the best units for art conservation in the Northeast. WACC's X-ray room has a 160 kilovolt capacity, allowing the Center to examine large works in marble and bronze as well as bigger furniture pieces. The digital-capture system records and downloads an X-ray image in minutes, allowing conservators to assess results almost instantaneously.
Everything conserved by WACC is photographed to provide a visual document of treatment history. Documentary imaging records all stages of the conservation process, including the object's condition before treatment, during treatment at key stages of the work, and after treatment is complete. This documentation is useful to the client in understanding all aspects of the treatment, and creates a record of procedure and condition for future curatorial and conservation reference.
Jan Brueghel and Hendrick van Balen, Wedding of Thetis and King Peleus, ultraviolet image. (Columbia Museum of Art collection.)
Anonymous, Madonna and Child with St. Barbara and St. Catherine (detail). Black and white infrared image reveals preparatory drawing below the paint layer. (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design collection.)
Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas, The Dancing Lesson (detail). X-ray reveals underpainting and stretching tacks. (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute collection.)