Imaging system uncovers lost art

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A Reading University academic is helping art historians uncover fascinating paintings that have been hidden for centuries.

Across Europe, historic regime changes often resulted in artworks being plastered or painted over. This was often common in places of worship as a result of changing cultural or religious practices.

But using a pulsed terahertz imaging system that is currently housed at the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF) in the Palais du Louvre in Paris, art-heritage researchers are able to see murals hidden beneath coats of plaster or paint.

However, there are currently problems with the clarity of images experts are able to generate using the system, especially when the layers covering hidden paintings are painted themselves or are uneven.

Now, Dr Gillian Walker and her mentor Dr John Bowen, from Reading University’s School of Systems Engineering, are beginning a three-year project to develop computer software aimed at resolving the issue.

Dr Walker said: ’My aim is to develop easy-to-use software that will enable a non-terahertz specialist to record data on the existing system and load it into a package that will generate interpretable images of obscured paintings. Currently over painting introduces shadows on paintings obscured at depth and uneven surfaces introduce distortion, which effects the quality of the images produced.’

Dr Walker’s project partners include graduate student Julien Labaune, Dr J Bianca Jackson and Prof Gérard Mourou, director of the Institut de la Lumière Extrême (ILE) at ENSTA-Ecole Polytechnique and Dr Michel Menu, director of the Laboratories of the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (LC2RMF) at the Palais du Louvre. They have been working on archaeological applications of pulsed terahertz imaging since 2007.

’Seeing through walls: discovering Europe’s hidden mural paintings’ is funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Science and Heritage Post Doctoral Fellowships Scheme, and by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.