Eighty-five years ago, American illustrator N.C. Wyeth painted one work of art over another, hiding a dramatic fistfight beneath a placid family portrait. Now X-ray vision has brought the long-hidden colors of that fight scene back to life – without disturbing the brush strokes layered on top.
The experiment, described August 19th at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Washington, is just the latest example showing how science can reveal secrets concealed beneath the surface of paintings and manuscripts.
The best-known example is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which was put through a laser-scanning exam a few years ago. The project produced a surprising twist: Scientists found evidence that the lady with the enigmatic smile was originally depicted with the type of veil worn by pregnant women, suggesting that the painting was done to celebrate a birth.
*Edit*: NPR story on Science Friday.