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www.PaintingsAuthenticity.com    last update: 06/08/2013

Gottfried Matthaes


Determining the authenticity of
antique and modern paintings
A section of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza


A work of art is material
prior still to being a message.


There are different approaches for determining the authenticity of antique paintings:
verifying authenticity through a purely stylistic evaluation
- verifying the authenticity of a painting by means of objective tests of the ageing of the material
- verifying the authenticity of a painting with the use of scientific instrumental methods.
The combined results of the stylistic, material and scientific investigations will permit the establishing of the compatibility of the painting with presumed elements or its inauthenticity.

"Portrait of a Lady"
Rogier van der Weyden

A recent copy of
"Portrait of a Lady"
(F. Pari)


A recent copy of
"Giuditta I"

"Giuditta I " 1901 - Gustav Klimt


Analyses of paintings on a scientific basis
with methods and instruments of our laboratory

Portrait "Anna Selbtritt", 1750



Thanks to the laboratory's modern equipment, a painting can be subjected to analysis using infrared reflectography, Wood's light, a stereoscopic microscope, IR spectroscopy and other instrumental techniques.


3 e 4 - Microscopic analysis
to examine the signs of ageing in the paint layer: the nature of the craquelure (natural or artificial - deep or superficial), the pigments (crystallinity,  purity and size), restoration and other factors.

  analysis of pigments

  examination of craquelure


6 - Wood's light and monochromatic lights permit an evaluation of the extent to which the painting has been restored, touched up and overpainted, as well as the identification of various fluorescent substances.


restoration work shown up        

stucco work identified


7, 8 e 9 - Infrared reflectography permits an in-depth examination of the painting bringing to light underdrawings or grids, pentimenti, the depth of the craquelure, and identification of restoration work or the use of different materials.


depth of craquelure

 underlying grid




IR spectroscopic analysis permits the analysis of various materials to ascertain their compatibility with the presumed historic period: pigments, binders, glues and varnishes. Minimal sample quantities needed.


sample to be analysed enclosed in a KBr pellet

insertion of sample in the spectrophotometer


1 e 2 - IR spectroscopic
dating of wood
for further information on
the dating of a painting's stretcher, support or frame
please visit our website www.spectroscopyforart.com


spectroscopic analysis unit


  dating spectrum  


5 - Evaluation of the
 physical properties
 of the material
measurement of the dessication of the binder and the elasticity of the paint layer


analysis with duroflexometer

measurement of surface elasticity

The laboratory also digitalizes images obtained by the various techniques,
carries out examinations under reflected and raking light, and performs microchemical analyses.
Certificates are issued with a clear and exhaustive report on the results of the analyses.



Example of certificate made by the scientific laboratory of the Museum
on a XIX century painting

The Scientific Laboratory  of
Museo d’Arte e Scienza



Results of the scientific tests performed on the painting
on canvas (49 x 60cm) shown in the photo -
with "Sisley" signature -
presumed period: end of the XIX century

The ascertainment of the authenticity of this painting has been carried out with scientific tests on the material and through the study of techniques and signs of wear.
In detail:

1) with the spectroscopic dating of  the wooden stretcher once proved its originality
2) with stereo microscopic analyses for the study of the painting layer: the drying of the paint binder, the craquelure, the sign left by the stretcher, etc.
3) with Wood’s Light and microscope for the examination of restored areas
4)  with IR-Reflectography for the examination of the deepest painting layers
5) with microscope, Wood’s Light and reflectography in order to verify the material uniformity and the ageing of the signature
6) with IR-Spectroscopy for establishing the pigments used and examining the drying of the paint binder

The above tests allowed to state the compatibility of the material, signs of ageing and techniques with the period of the painter’s activity.


See the complete results: click



Museum's scientific laboratory

Any attempt to determine the authenticity of a painting must begin with tests and analyses to establish whether the age of the painting and the materials and techniques used are compatible with the presumed date of execution.

The objective elements attesting to the authenticity of a work are to be found in a scientific laboratory!
The Museum laboratory’s mission is to improve existing scientific methods and elaborate new methods for the ascertainment of the authenticity of art objects. The laboratory’s instruments and know-how for the determining of authenticity are at the disposal of collectors, art experts, restorers, art galleries and museums. (The laboratory staff, who speak the main European languages, are at your disposal for any explanations).


Tests carried out by the laboratory:

Spectroscopic dating and characterization of wooden objects

Microscopic tests on paintings

Examination of underlying layers using infrared reflectography

Analyses of paint layers with a duroflexometer

Analyses with Wood’s light, UV and IR

Spectroscopic chemical analyses on pigments, glues, encrustations, patinas, products of corrosion. Scientific, practical and instrumental tests of authenticity on: ivory, amber, archaeological glass, pigments, metals, stones, carpets, tapestry, prints, books, clocks and watches, china.




Acknowledged value
of the Museum’s scientific laboratory and its methods
for determining authenticity


Attitudes towards and use of scientific methods are influenced by local laws and customs.

Basis of judgment: the situation in Italy (where the Museum is located)

The prime institution for the fight against forgery and imitations is the Guardia di Finanza or Financial Police. The most recent catalogue on the determination of authenticity in art, published by the same in June 2007, contains an exclusive six-page presentation of the scientific laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza in which its methods for dating paintings, furniture, and objects in ivory and other materials are illustrated in detail and their validity, in effect, endorsed.

Judicial proceedings. The probatory value of the spectroscopic dating method is crucial to the outcome of civil and penal judgments involving the determination of the actual age of art works. A new Italian bill (26.10.2007) provides for fines and imprisonment for the forging of signatures and other characteristics.

The art market: the percentage of unauthentic art works currently on the market is very high. As a consequence a section of the trade rejects scientific methods out of economic necessity. Furthermore, when dating tests give negative results, dealers often tend to maintain that it is not the art work that is at fault but the scientific test result, or that the method is unknown.

Art lovers and investors. Copies and fakes will continue to be offered as originals as long as buyers of art refuse to follow the same line of conduct adopted when acquiring other “products”, that is to say insisting on a dependable guarantee of the object’s authenticity as the condition for its purchase. It is senseless to content oneself with the personal opinions of experts alone in this age of technology and science. The art market will become trustworthy only when the art lover becomes a connoisseur and, as envisaged by the law, demands a valid certificate.





The value of art expert opinions  in the scientific age


€ 4,500  



€ 5,000,000
Auction of June 18, 2006

In the past, when called on to appraise and attribute a painting, art experts examined only the surface under natural light. A superficial examination of this kind was sufficient, however, because it was artistic style and technique they were looking at.

This way of examining a painting has remained the same to the present day, but the attention is now focused almost exclusively on the painter’s signature. The fact that today, as in the future, it is often impossible to attribute a work to an author with certainty, induces the thought that current art appraisal methods are all to the advantage of the market.

Whilst this type of ascertainment is to the dealers’ advantage, for buyers it could mean the almost total loss of their investment if one day this overemphasis on the signature were considered illogical and mistaken and a more traditional way of attributing art returned to favour.

Today it is already possible to reduce this risk thanks to the dating and scientific analyses of the various component materials of the painting and its support. Any incompatibility between the measured ages and information on the presumed author reveals to the owner, before he seeks an expert opinion, that he has acquired one of the myriad recent copies in circulation.

Scientific methods used for determining the age of antique paintings are now applicable for works dating up to around 1920.


Get further and detailed information from our web site:







The necessity of dating a painting for its valuation

Icons are a telling example of how stylistic considerations alone are not sufficient to establish the date of a painting. Even though from an art historical standpoint there are clearly distinguishable painting styles, succeeding generations continued to reproduce the best-known and loved styles and themes. Only the dating of the wood, therefore, can permit certain and unequivocal classification.

 (Selection of icons from the
Museum’s collection)




age of wood: 310 years


age of wood:  240 years



age of wood:  200 years


age of wood:  160 years


age of wood: 100 years



age of wood:  85 years


age of wood:  35 years


recent fake

Similar considerations can be applied to paintings of a religious content.




WHAT IS MORE, in the Museum rooms there are 9 interactive test stations at the disposal of visitors for simple tests for ascertaining the authenticity of antiques.

Test station room 7:
identification of glues and other synthetic materials with Wood’s light

Test station room 8:
sniff test on excavated pottery

Test station room 9: test for revealing the use of plastic


Test station room 9: identification of authentic icons with Wood’s light

Test station room 9: examination with a magnifying glass of signs of wear and decorations on china

The microscope distinguishes authentic patinas and encrustations from faked ones


Optical examination of signs of wear to identify an authentic piece of silverware

Shadows reveal the industrial or handcrafted manufacture of glass

The dull sound of a porcelain item reveals hidden restoration work





Example of the complete certificate

The Scientific Laboratory  of
Museo d’Arte e Scienza


The painting has been studied with microscopic, IR reflectrographic, Wood’s light and FT-IR spectroscopic analyses, to verify its compatibility with the presumed period.

Painting on canvas (49 x 60cm)
"Sisley" signature

The overall state of conservation of the painting is good with the exception of a visible L-shaped tear in the left-hand central area. The canvas also shows some small tears on the edges.
A careful preliminary examination of the edges brought to light the presence of a set of new nails, whilst there are numerous free holes left by preceding nails. It was noted in particular that in the case of the two side strips making up the stretcher there is a perfect correspondence between the holes currently present in the canvas and the holes in the underlying stretcher. Attached please find photos of the two sides with a red arrow showing the holes in the canvas which match those in the stretcher underneath (photos no.2, no.3 and no.4).

   Photo 2

Photo 3 -


Having thus ascertained that at least the two side strips of the stretcher are unquestionably original and coeval with this painting, we proceeded to date them scientifically. The spectroscopic analysis of the wood gave the following results:

Wood type = conifer


Age of the wood = 115 +/- 10 years
(spectra enclosed)



Analysis of the Painting layer

The study of the painted surface, thanks also to the use of a stereo microscope, showed up the following characteristics.

Many areas of the painting evidence a deep, extensive craquelure. The development of the same is also logical: it varies according to the different colours and in particular is more marked in the light-coloured areas which, containing less binder, are also less elastic and the first to develop cracks (macro photos no.5 and no.6).


Photo 5 - deeper craquelure in the light-coloured areas


Photo 6 - craquelure variation according to the different colours

Near the edges on either side of the painting there are also parallel cracks exactly over the inside corner of the underlying stretcher; this is a characteristic typical of a canvas which has been attached to its stretcher for a long time. Moreover, the fact that the position of these cracks corresponds to that of the inside corner of the current stretcher is further confirmation that the side strips are definitely original.
When pressure is applied by a special instrument (durometer) on the paint layer, which is fairly hard as a result of the drying of the paint binder and the colours, it tends to crack rather than warp.
All the above features are typical of an authentic craquelure which has formed naturally and begin to be noticeable about
80-100 years after the date of execution of the painting.


Analysis of the Signature

The microscopic examination of the signature (macro photos no.7, and no.8) evidenced its uniformity with the rest of the painting: it can be seen, in fact, that the colour has worn to the same degree, especially in the more protruding areas, and has not penetrated into the fissures of the craquelure as would have been the case if the signature had been inscribed onto a painted surface that was already old.


Photo 7


Photo 8



Examination under Wood’s light also showed that the reactions of the signature were comparable to those of the rest of the painting (photo no.9 taken under Wood’s light). These observations therefore attest to the fact that the signature is contemporary with the painting.


Total analysis with Wood's light.

An overall examination of the painting under Wood’s light showed up a little number of restored areas, particularly to the upper right in correspondence with the sky: in fact under Wood’s light these areas appear as dark patches. They are clearly visible in photo no. 10 taken with the help of specific filters and subsequent digital elaboration.
The IR reflectographic analysis did not evidence any underlying preparatory drawing or other features beneath the painting.


IR Reflectographic Analysis

The analysis in infrared reflectography allows to study the painting in depth obtaining information about possible drawings below the painting surface.

Foto 11 - In this specific case the analysis did not found a preparatory drawing of the subject below, but it pointed out some parallel lines to external edges, which determine a perimetric rectangle.
The attached photo, which shows the lower corner near the signature, points out very well this characteristic (red arrows).



Analysis of the pigments


An FT-IR spectroscopic test was then carried out on a number of areas of colour in order to establish the pigments used.

In particular we studied a surface white, the white preparatory layer and the blue of the river water.

The white used on the surface resulted as being made up of: lead white with barium sulphate and an addition of zinc white;
the preparatory layer, instead, consists of lead white and calcium carbonate,
whilst for the blue colour Prussian blue was used.
(spectra enclosed)

The absence of titanium white, a pigment used only after 1920, was also verified.


The analysis also indicated the small contribution made by the paint binder (peak at 1735 cm-1) pointing to its state of advanced desiccation.



The above observations and the results of the scientific tests give us a series of positive indications of the painting’s natural ageing:

- the result of the age of the stretcher: 115 years
the paint layer which is fairly hard as a result of the drying of the paint binder
- a
 deep, extensive and natural craquelure
- the coherent material of the signature
some parallel lines to external edges underneath the surface usually made by this painter
- the use of coherent pigments
- a little number of restored areas

For these reasons it is possible to attest its compatibility with the spectroscopic dating of the wood of the stretcher. It is also positive that there are no signs of forgery in the painting or in the signature itself and that its apparent age coincides with the last years of life of the painter in question.

To return to the laboratory: click



Other requests may be sent, as always, directly to the Milan laboratory at the following address:

Museo d’Arte e Scienza
Via Q. Sella 4 – 20121 Milano
Tel. 0039 02 72022488
Fax 0039 02 72023156
e-mail: info@museoartescienza.com




With this guide to detecting fakes, you will always have a trusted expert by your side, ready to provide you with clear and straightforward answers as to the authenticity and originality of the items that arouse your interest.

Title: THE ART COLLECTOR'S ILLUSTRATED HANDBOOK (three volumes - three languages)

The Author, Gottfried Matthaes, a physicist, was born in Germany of a family of longstanding artistic tradition and since 1960 has dedicated himself to the study of practical and scientific methods for the ascertainment of authenticity. In 1990 he founded the "Museo d'Arte e Scienza", the only one of its kind in the world, in the centre of Milan where most of the objects illustrated in the handbooks are exhibited, together with its attached laboratory. In 1993 he discovered and patented the application of IR spectroscopy to the age dating of wooden art objects.

VOLUME 1: Ivory, Paintings, Icons, Carpets and Rugs, Tapestry, Furniture, Glass, Ceramics, Scientific Methods
VOLUME 2: Paper, Books, Prints, Metals, Clocks, Walking Sticks, Pipes, Musical Instruments, Precious Stones, Amber, Pearls, Enamel Paint, Dolls, Toys, Fans
VOLUME 3: Minor Asian Arts, Excavated objects, Buddhist Art, African Art, Indonesian Art
Price: Volume 1 (278 pages) 40.00 Euro
Volume 2 (128 pages) 30.00 Euro
Volume 3 (128 pages) 30.00 Euro
Shipping charges are not included .
International Code:

Volume 1 - 1997, Code ISBN 978-88-900454-5-5
Volume 2 - 1999, Code ISBN
Volume 3 - 2000, Code ISBN 978-88-900454-7-9

How to buy it:
  • in all bookshops giving the above mentioned ISBN code number
  • directly at the Art and Science Museum (with discount)
  • by e-mail

for further informations about the book www.ArtAndScienceHandbook.com




www.MuseoArteScienza.com - Sections of the "Museo d'Arte e Scienza": 6 rooms dedicated to the ascertainment of authenticity in art and antiques, 5 rooms on Leonardo da Vinci's "Treatise on Painting" and his activities in Milan, 5 rooms dedicated to African Art and Buddhist Art, 2 Scientific Laboratories.

www.LeonardoDaVinciMilano.com - Two permanent exhibitions: "Leonardo Citizen of Milan" and  "Appreciating Art through the Eyes of Leonardo" from his "Treatise on Painting".

www.AuthenticAfricanBronzesandCeramics.com -  Dedicated to the authenticity of African artworks in bronze, stone and pottery. The scientific laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza has developed valid methods for telling authentic African objects from copies and fakes.

www.ArtAndScienceHandbook.com - The most complete and scientifically valid guide to ascertaining the authenticity of European and non-European antiques on an objective basis (540 pages and more than 2,000 colour illustrations in 3 volumes and 3 languages).

www.AntiqueFurnitureAuthenticity.com - A list of possible methods for determining the authenticity of furniture based on objective factors.

www.Excavatedartauthenticity.com - "A list of all the possible ways of determining, on the basis of objective factors,  the authenticity of excavated pottery, glass or bronze items from Southern Italy, the Mediterranean Basin, China and South America.".

www.AfricanArtAuthenticity.com - "Art and Life in Black Africa", The African Art didactic section of the Museum (5 rooms and over 350 objects).  

www.SpectroscopyforArt.com - A scientific method for the dating of wood and identification of the wood type used for art objects. Determination of their authenticity through analysis of colours, binders, pigments and other organic substances.  

www.Matthaes.org  - The history of the G. Matthaes Foundation from the opening of the painting school in Dresden in 1906 up to the Museum "Arte e Scienza" in Milan.

www.CopiesAndFakesInArt.com - Ample further descriptions for ascertaining authenticity in art in the individual fields of antiques.

www.IvoryAuthenticityAndAge.com - Ivory, bone and horn can now be spectroscopically dated and accurately identified.

www.AmiciMuseoArteScienza.org - An association of the Museum founded in 2010 to patronize and promote the restoration and preservation of works of art and the development of appropriate scientific methods for determining their authenticity.

www.arteautentica.it - The Museum's scientific laboratory is in charge of the investigation of the authenticity in art and antiques and is available to individuals, collectors, art experts, restorers and museums.





Museo d’Arte e Scienza di Gottfried Matthaes S.R.L.
Sede legale e amministrativa: Via Q. Sella 4 – 20121 Milano
Partita IVA e Codice Fiscale 03191710106
C.C.I.A.A MILANO: 1343958 – Cap. sociale € 180.759,91