EXAMINATION OF CROSS SECTIONS


Portrait of emperor Domitian

September 16, 2023

Object

Portrait of emperor Domitian

Owner

Examination of samples from 5 places of the painting

Paint layers were cast into cross sections and studied under a microscope in order to see layers and
pigments.

Commissioner

Responsible for the examination

Nina Olivier, trained paintings conservator at the Gothenburg University, ordinary member of NKF-S and ICOM

Performed by

Nina Olivier, Art & Conservation AB

Introduction

Background and commission

Nina Olivier, Art & Conservation AB , was commissioned by ————– and his siblings, to collect
samples of the paint layers on a portrait of the emperor Domitian. The examination took place in
June 2023 in the studio of the conservator, where the portrait was transported.

The commission consisted in collecting samples of the paint layers from five places in the painting, in
order to study them under a microscope and determine layers and materials in the painting.

Method

The collection of samples was done with a micro-scalpel. These were cast in CEM4000 Lightfix,
Methylmethacrylatfrei (Cloeren Technology GmbH) and polymerized in a Technotray Blue Light
Curing Device with a 70-90°C temperature and a radiation time of 5 x 2 minutes.

The samples were then examined in a Lotus WF10X microscope with a 10x enhancement, in white
light and UV light. Pictures were taken with a cellphone camera through the ocular.

The portrait

The painting is a portrait of the Roman emperor Domitian. It is quite large, 133 x 102.5 cm. It shows
the emperor in half figure, facing left. He is wearing a crown of laurel leaves and is dressed in Roman
armor with a cape around his shoulders. In his right hand, he holds a fasces without the axe. In his
left hand, we see the jewel embedded hilt of a sword. To the right upper part of the painting, the
name DOMITIANO is seen in capital letters.

The painting is covered by a darkened and oxidized dammar varnish which is partially blanched. The
painting has many darkened and discolored retouches. The varnish and the retouches result in a
difficulty to fully see the image.

To the left lower corner, is a signature, “L dA Vinci, Pnixt”. The “Pnixt” is underlined, while the rest of
the signature is not. The signature is not completely visible to the eye in normal light due to the
overall darkness of the painting.

The painting

The painting is lined, retouched and varnished. There is no documentation on when the conservation
treatments have been carried out nor by whom.

Provenance

According to the commissioner and a report written by ——————————————————
————, the painting is connected to a series of twelve portraits depicting the twelve first Roman
emperors. The eleven first in the series are supposed to have been painted by Titian during the
1530’s, but the painter behind the twelfth portrait is unclear. The series is supposed to have been
sold from England to the Spanish court in the 18th century and eventually disappeared in a fire, but
according to the commissioner, there are question marks around this.

The painting was listed for sale at Christie’s in London on August 2nd, 1928 as lot 156, then again on
December 10th, 1928 and again on June 7th, 1929. None of these times, the painting was sold.

It has been in the family of the commissioner for the past 85 years.

Examination

Sampling

Samples were collected from five places in the painting;

No 1 The cuirass

No 2 The cloak

No 3 The arm

No 4 By the signature

No 5 Laurels

The samples all broke very easily, and it was difficult to collect all layers from any of the places
samples were collected from. This indicates that time had passed between some of the layers were
applied. Since varnish and paint layers can be found in all the samples, but ground can only be found
in two, it is possible that time passed either between the grounding of the canvas, and the painting,
or between two paint layers. The delamination could also be due to a strongly yellow, fluorescent
layer, found in three of the samples.

Sample 1, cuirass

Image 1 and 2: Sample one, ordinary light, 10 x enhancement (image 1) and 4 x enhancement (image 2)

Image 3 and 4: Sample one, UV light, 10 x enhancement (image 3) and 4 x enhancement (image 4)

Layers sample 1

Only three layers were distinguished in sample 1, none of them a ground layer, which means the
sample was incomplete. The top layer in the images (labeled layer 3 here) is a thick varnish. Below it
is a paint layer (labeled 2 here), where small grains of pigments are visible. The bottom layer of the
sample (labeled one here), (which is not the bottom layer of the painting) has a strong yellowish
fluorescence when seen in UV light. This indicates a presence of resin, which could be from a varnish,
an oil or glue.

A fragment with layers of white and gray are to the side of the sample in image 2. This fragment does
not belong to sample 1, but happened to come along in the casting process.

LayersComment
1. Resin containing layer (varnish?)Fluorescent
2. Paint layerHas grains of pigments
3. VarnishThick

Sample 2, cloak

Image 5 and 6: Sample two, ordinary light, 10 x enhancement (image 5) and 4 x enhancement (image 6)

Image 7 and 8: Sample two, UV light, 10 x enhancement (image 7) and 4 x enhancement (image 8)

Layers sample 2

Six layers were distinguished in sample 2. The top layer in the images 6 and 8 (labeled six here) is a
thin, fluorescent varnish (probably dammar). Below it is a thick varnish with no fluorescens visible in
UV light (labeled five here). Below the varnish is a thin red paint layer (labeled four here). Below it is
a thicker orange looking paint layer with grains (labeled three here). Underneath this layer is a thin
red paint layer (labeled two here) and in the very bottom, there is a pink layer, which is probably the
ground (labeled one here).

A small fragment of green and red is to the side in the sample. This fragment does not belong to
sample 2, but happened to come along in the casting process.

LayersComment
1. Ground?Pink
2. Paint layerThin, red
3. Paint layerThicker orange looking in sample, containing
red pigments
4. Paint layerThin, red
5. VarnishThick, no fluorescens
6. VarnishThin, fluorescent, probably dammar

Sample 3, arm

Image 9 and 10: Sample three, ordinary light, 10 x enhancement (image 9) and 4 x enhancement (image 10)

Image 11 and 12: Sample three, UV light, 10 x enhancement (image 11) and 4 x enhancement (image 12)

Layers sample 3

Five layers were distinguished in sample 3. None of these was a ground layer. The sample is therefore
incomplete. The bottom layer in the images (labeled five here) is a thin, fluorescent varnish (probably
dammar). Above it is a thick varnish with no fluorescens visible in UV light (labeled four here). Above
the varnish is a thin red/brown paint layer (labeled three here). On top of this layer is a pink looking
layer with grains of red and blue. This is probably a paint layer (labeled two here). On the top of the
sample, as well as on the left hand side (visible in image 11), is the thin, strongly yellow fluorescent
layer also noted in sample 1.

LayersComment
1. Resin containing layer (varnish?)Fluorescent
2. Paint layerPinkish white with red and blue grains
3. Paint layerThin red/brown
4. VarnishThick, no fluorescens
5. VarnishThin, fluorescent, probably dammar

Sample 4, close to signature

Image 13 and 14: Sample four, ordinary light, 10 x enhancement (image 13) and 4 x enhancement (image 14)

Image 15 and 16: Sample three, UV light, 10 x enhancement (image 15) and 4 x enhancement (image 16)

Layers sample 4

Five layers were distinguished in sample 4 and none of these were a ground layer. The sample is
therefore incomplete. The top layer in the images (labeled five here) is a thin, fluorescent varnish
(probably dammar). Below this is a thick varnish with no fluorescens visible in UV light (labeled four
here). Below the varnish is a black paint layer (labeled three here). Below this is a brown paint layer
(labeled two here). On the very bottom of the sample, is the thin strongly yellow fluorescent resin
containing layer.

Note that this sample was collected by the little hole a bit from the signature, and not in the actual
signature.

LayersComment
1. Resin containing layer (varnish?)Fluorescent
2. Paint layerBrown
3. Paint layerBlack
4. VarnishThick, no fluorescens
5. VarnishThin, fluorescent, probably dammar

Sample 5, laurel

Image 17 and 18: Sample five, ordinary light, 10 x enhancement (image 17) and 4 x enhancement (image 18)

Image 19 and 20: Sample three, UV light, 10 x enhancement (image 19) and 4 x enhancement (image 20)

Layers sample 5

Four layers were distinguished in sample 5. The bottom layer in the images (labeled four here) is a
thin, fluorescent varnish (probably dammar). Above this is a thicker varnish with a vague fluorescens
visible in UV light (labeled three here). Above the varnish is a thick , dark paint layer (labeled two here).

Above this, to the right is a brown layer, which could be the ground (labeled one here). To the
side of this is a white layer, which is a later filling. It has cracked while drying and paint from
retouching has trickled its way down in it. The paint layer covering the filling (to the right in the
sample) differs from the paint layer by the side of it (to the left in the sample), as it is a later retouch.

LayersComment
1. Ground?Brown
2. Paint layerDark
3. VarnishThicker, vague fluorescens in yellow
4. VarnishThin, fluorescent in white

Summary and conclusion

Samples were collected from five places of the painting. These were then cast in methylmethacrylate
and studied under a microscope in white light and in UV light.

Sampling was hard as the layers would fall apart. This indicates some time has passed between the
application of some of the layers as layers of surface dirt has collected between the layers, causing
them to delaminate. The delamination could also be due to the resin containing strongly yellow,
fluorescent layer found in three of the samples. Interestingly, the two samples where the resin
containing fluorescent was not found (samples 2 and 5), had layers which could possibly be ground,
whereas no ground layer was found in the other samples.

Some general layers however, could be spotted;

  • Resin containing layer: a strong yellow fluorescens indicating the presence of a resin. Could
    be from a varnish, or possible oil or glue.
  • Ground: red or brownish red. No white ground was found.
  • Paint layer:
  • Varnish: thickly applied, no fluorescens visible in UV light.
  • Varnish: thin layer, fluorescent in UV light, probably dammar.

Stockholm 2023-09-16

——————————