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The California Patrons have funded the acquisition of a unique piece of scientific equipment, a Mass Spectrometer, which can reveal the chemical composition of works of art and the origins of the materials. The Vatican Laboratory requested a Nexion 300X ICP-MS, manufactured by an American company, Perkins Elmer. This machine analyzes the chemical compositions of works of art and artifacts. Such information is invaluable to the Vatican restorers and scholars. The Mass Spectrometer is highly sensitive and requires only trace amounts of material to complete an analysis of the chemical makeup.

By learning what the material is made of, art restorers can determine which pigments or elements to use in conserving or restoring an object. In addition, the Mass Spectrometer’s analysis provides a fingerprint for the material which can be used to determine the geographic location where the material originated. For example, the results can pinpoint which quarry supplied the marble for a sculpture or from what mine the gold used to create ancient jewelry came. Scholars can use this information to study the history of works of art and the cultural and economic relationships between different people and geographies. It provides insights into which objects came from the same workshops and how techniques change over the centuries.

The California Patrons have a history of donating scientific equipment to the Vatican Laboratories, including the Scanning Electronic Microscope, which was vital for the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel. This equipment is still used daily in the Laboratories. We are delighted to continue our support of the technical work of the Museums.

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