Russian Icons, 17th–18th c. Non-Destructive, Non-Invasive Diagnostic Methodology for an Integrated Study of Micrographic Triptychs from the Benaki Museum Collection

The study aims to enhance our knowledge of the materials and techniques applied in the making of Russian, portable ecclesiastical paintings produced after the 16th century, and to evaluate a pilot, non-destructive, non-invasive, research methodology proposed for their examination. Based on research relating to the historical background of their production and distribution in the South, the availability of materials and the applied techniques, a non-destructive, non-invasive methodology is exploited to examine three triptychs and two polyptych side panels belonging to the collection of the Benaki Museum. As their small size and excellent state of preservation prohibit sampling, a study scheme based on visual examination, the implementation of a series of spectral imaging techniques (VIS, IRRFC, SWIR, UVL, RTI, X ray) and a non-invasive micro XRF analysis is tested. Fiber and wood-type identification are carried out microscopically. The collected information relates to the making of the frames and the supports, the design, the use of metal foils and pigments, the order of application of paint layers and the rendering techniques. Due to the non-destructive, non-invasive character of the procedure, organic constituents are not thoroughly examined. Use of an expected palette was confirmed, but the modelling proved rather sophisticated. Among the most interesting finds were the use of distinct pigment mixtures for the underpaints of the flesh parts and certain deviations from the expected rendering techniques. The methodology proved very effective in terms of its output, the global approach of the construction technique, the user-friendly application, the low cost and time consumption factors.