Skip to main content

A Closer Look: Deceptions & Discoveries – Marjorie E. Wieseman ***

It’s rather unusual for this site to feature a book about art – but the topic of this compact National Galleries/Yale University Press book is the way we can find out more about art works using scientific techniques to delve into just who painted them and how.
The sheer volume of technology leading galleries have up their sleeves is quite mind-boggling. While suspicions are still often roused by an expert idea, we then get all sorts of specialist X-rays, infra-red scans (good for detecting the drawing underneath paint), gas chromatography (identifying the makeup of the paint)… even using tree ring dating in the wood that many old paintings were produced on. The result is a remarkable armoury set up against would-be forgers and simple misunderstandings about a painting’s origins.
A guided tour of the technology is then followed up by 16 ‘case studies’ each taking an individual painting where the original dating or attribution were wrong, or where new discoveries have been made about how the painter went about their art, thanks to the technology.
This is all excellent stuff, and well illustrated as you would expect, but it is a very dry presentation of fact. To be frank, it takes a fascinating subject and makes it a bit dull. Even the case studies, which have buried in them fascinating stories don’t exactly draw the reader in. So, great on content, fascinating and not something those outside the art world often appreciate – but could have been made more appealing to the general reader.
One particular oddity in a book about overpaintings and such – the image shown here isn’t the same one as on the copy of the book I have. Mine has a picture of a Christmas tree on it. More deception?
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…