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Subject: Lead on icons

Lead on icons

From: Tatiana Ginsberg <tatianaginsberg>
Date: Saturday, October 20, 2001
Kiki Kagiopoulou <kkagiopoulou [at] yahoo__com> writes

>Using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy in order to identify the
>components of varnish on Byzantine and Russian icons, has detected
>the presence of lead. I wonder where I could find information about
>the use of lead on icons since its presence seems to alter the
>component analysis of the icon.
>A layer has been also detected under the varnish with possible
>colour and gum in its structure which has been used on many icons
>and keeps the icons in a very good condition. I would appreciate any
>ideas concerning these findings on icons structure.

I studied Byzantine Iconography and the question of an isolating
varnish (and whether or not to use one) came up often.

Not so much in Russian Icons, but certainly in icons in Italy, glare
was often used as an isolating varnish between the layers of paint
and a final varnish. Sometimes fig sap or honey would be added as a
Plasticine to keep the glare flexible, and other gums are certainly

As to the lead, it could be a component of any of a number of the
layers in an icon. There could well be lead in the gesso (gesso
commonly contains lead). Or, if the icon was painted on a surface of
gold leaf, the leaf or the bole may have had some lead in it. Or
else the mineral pigments for the colors could have contained lead.
I don't know if the lead from one layer could have migrated to, or
be detected in, another layer but it certainly seems likely that a
number of the layers could contain lead.

Good luck with your research and keep us all posted.

Tatiana Ginsberg

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:34
                 Distributed: Monday, October 22, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-15-34-003
Received on Saturday, 20 October, 2001

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