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Cultural heritage, a ghost figure is hidden in the painting The Paston Treasure

Cultural heritage, a ghost figure is hidden in the painting The Paston Treasure

An enigmatic female figure is hidden beneath a wall clock in the seventeenth-century painting The Paston Treasure. 

It was revealed by the images obtained by Italian researchers from the National Institute for Nuclear Physics-INFN and the National Research Council-CNR, using a special, ‘made in Italy’ X-ray scanner. 

The painting is on display in an exhibition that runs until 23 September 2018 at Norwich Castle Museum, England, by which it is owned and where the analysis was carried out. 

Commissioned by the Paston family of Norfolk to an anonymous Flemish artist, The Paston Treasure records a selection of the family’s rich and vast ‘treasure’. The painting depicts precious collectibles preserved in the Paston house, assembled just as in a jigsaw puzzle.

But what is the pictorial process behind this particular composition? To answer the question, the Italian researchers used the Landis-X scanner. 

“LANDIS-X is the only ultra-rapid mobile X-ray fluorescence scanning system based on real-time technology, able to provide restorers and art historians live images of the distribution of pigments on the pictorial surface at very high resolution (up to 30 microns)”, explained Paolo Romano of CNR-IBAM, who developed the scanner, responsible for MA-XRF measurements on The Paston Treasure. 

“Through the images of the elemental distributions obtained during the measurements, it was possible to learn the nature of the pigments used by the artist and study his creative process”, explained Claudia Caliri, of INFN Southern National Laboratory. 

In particular, the X-ray images showed the presence, in the top right of the painting, of a ‘ghost’ female figure, previously painted and then covered, and therefore not visible in the final pictorial composition.

“The images highlighted the pictorial details of the woman including her face, the fact that she was wearing a red dress and appears to have what seem to be leaves placed decoratively in her hair”, said Francesca Vanke, Keeper of Art and Curator of Decorative Art at Norwich Castle Museum. 

There are several hypotheses about the identity of the mysterious figure, who could represent an allegorical or real figure. In the latter case, it might be the portrait of Lady Margaret Paston, the second wife of Sir William Paston, who commissioned the painting. 

In addition to revealing the important hidden detail, the images made it possible to identify the palette of pigments typical of the Flemish period, based on the use of cobalt enamel, copper resin, vermilion red, tin yellow, orpiment and ochre. 


Source CNR, INFN
Publication date 08/30/2018
Tag Cultural Heritage , Physical Sciences and Engineering