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?
Paperback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…