Studying Heritage Art
In an atmosphere of uniform density, the most distant things seen through it, such as the mountains, in consequence of the great quantity of atmosphere which is between your eye and them, will appear blue. Therefore, you should make the building... wall which is more distant less defined and bluer... five times as far away, make five times as blue. —Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci’s quote, above, describes the hills and trees in the far distance as blue, approaching the color of the sky in his painting of Ginevra de’ Benci, shown on the cover of this Special Collection. By using the technique, capturing how perceived color changes with increased distance, da Vinci confirms his inherent understanding of the phenomena of light scattering, a scientific theory not formally described until hundreds of years later. Da Vinci is, perhaps, western culture’s best-known polymath, with prowess in engineering, scientific, and artistic talents. So, it is fitting that on the 500th year since his death, Science Advances publishes a collection of research displaying how the most modern tools of science—from x-ray technologies to artificial intelligence—are being used to study and document the exploration of cultural heritage objects.
This Special Collection on the Study of Heritage Art, curated by Science Advances editors Dr. Warren Warren and Dr. John Delaney, reflects the extraordinarily diverse set of technologies being used to deepen our understanding of the tools, materials, and processes used by artisans of all persuasions while advancing our understanding of basic scientific principles. The research compiled here ranges from studies addressing fundamental questions about the chemistry of materials to the use of artificial intelligence to reveal human creative processes. The research herein reconstructs ancient texts, provides insight to early human history, and explains how other new tools can be used to better understand the creation of iconic pieces of a culture. As a whole, this collection sheds light on some of the most exciting new approaches that conservation scientists are using to study the artifacts of human culture and provides data that will inform and instruct conservators and art historians for years to come.