Skip to main content

Infrared technology finds hidden art work

An infrared imaging technology used to study the composition of materials has been used by a researcher at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to find a hidden sketch covered over by an 1880s painting of a Civil War general.

Oak Ridge researcher Ralph Dinwiddie says the uncovering of the hidden sketch occurred through the use of infrared reflectography.

"Artists typically make sketches of what they want to paint and then paint over those sketches," Dinwiddie says. "Sometimes they make changes like sketching in a tree or something like that and then not paint it. Art historians are interested in that kind of thought process the artist uses."

Dinwiddie says this work performed for the East Tennessee Historical Society through the laboratory's users program is different from the usual infrared research conducted at Oak Ridge's High Temperature Materials Laboratory.

"We didn't purchase the camera to do art history studies," Dinwiddie says. "This was kind of a unique opportunity that we took advantage of. The camera is mostly used for studying laser technology and new light technology."

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.