A STUDY OF THE MATERIALS USED BY MEDIEVAL PERSIAN PAINTERS
NANCY PURINTON, & MARK WATTERS
THE AIM of this paper is to compare information obtained through a technical analysis, using modern scientific equipment, of some Persian paintings with the information available in the literature on Persian painting technique. The sources of information ranged from a translation of a 16th-century manuscript written by Sadiqi Bek to current technical analyses of the materials used in the manufacture of Persian paintings. The technical information given in this paper was obtained from a study of 19 Persian paintings dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) collection. The miniatures were executed in Persian art centers such as Herat, Shiraz, Tabriz, Bukhara, Qazvin, Isfahan, and Gilan. They were chosen because of known provenance and secure dating.
The LACMA paintings were examined using a binocular microscope, ultraviolet fluorescence, and infrared reflectography. Pigment identification was based primarily on energy-dispersive x-ray fluorescence analysis. This nondestructive technique provides an elemental analysis of selected color areas of each painting but is reliable only for those pigments containing elements with atomic numbers above that of potassium. The presence of particular elements is indicative of certain pigments and thus aids in their identification. Pigment identification can be confirmed by x-ray diffraction and/or polarizing light microscopy in conjunction with x-ray fluorescene.
Many pigments were also analyzed using a polarizing light microscope. This combination of analytical techniques allows the researcher to identify pigments that would not be detected by the x-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Every pigment in every painting was not analyzed, but every color in a painting (e.g., red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, white, black) that could be analyzed was. Further differentiation among the green pigments was done by x-ray diffraction. This analysis enabled the identification of a variety of copper-containing green pigments.
This paper is a preliminary comparison of scientific data with the texts about Persian painting technique. Keeping in mind the incomplete state of scholarship concerning the materials of Persian manuscript painting, the reader should remember that the following exposition is only a preliminary investigation of the pigments employed, their sources, and their manufacture or preparation.