Diagnostic investigations

The Scientific Council of 8 October 2020 unanimously approved the proposal to establish an operative group within the Archivio dell’Arte Metafisica with the task of acquiring all possible results of diagnostic studies carried out in the past on works by Giorgio de Chirico and to coordinate those that may be necessary in the future so as to establish a database that will enable scholars to outline, with the utmost precision and including all details revealed by advanced techniques, the material and technical evolution of the artist’s painting over time. This database will make it possible to establish reliable parameters for comparison in order to settle unresolved issues related to authenticity and dating.

De Chirico has always presented numerous problems for art historians, not only because he was one of the most frequently forged painters from the early 1940s onwards, but also because, for reasons that are not relevant here and that have been clarified elsewhere, he disowned numerous works, especially those depicting metaphysical subjects, executed by himself during the years between 1910 and 1920, the 1930s and 1940s, and, finally, because he often repeated or recreated metaphysical motifs, anticipating their dating by several decades.

A correct and unquestionable knowledge of de Chirico’s various painting practices, including the materials he used, the paint brands he preferred, the dealers from whom he obtained his supplies and the chromatic mixtures which he used during the various periods to give life, for example, to his clear and uniform green skies or those infused with fading or brilliant light, would make it possible to proceed with greater certainty when resolving long disputed questions of authenticity, as well as in excluding forgeries or falsely dated works from accredited publications, etc.

The specialists that the Council decided to entrust with the task of organising this service are: Professor Mattia Patti, from the University of Pisa, an expert in non-invasive diagnostic investigations and a scholar of painting materials and techniques, and Professor Barbara Ferriani, an esteemed restorer and lecturer at the Scuola di Specializzazione dell’Università Statale di Milano.

In the case of de Chirico, therefore, this service will serve a dual purpose, indicating possible forgeries by identifying date markers or materials never used by the artist so as to establish a correct dating sequence for the metaphysical replicas, and finally, to delineate ranges of probability or attributive improbability by establishing those procedures most commonly used by the artist in the construction of a painting and those that have never been documented or that occur very rarely.

The group, in which the president of the Archives, Professor Paolo Baldacci, will also collaborate as an expert and historical specialist, will proceed in the following order:

1. Acquisition of documentation on similar research already carried out by museums, institutions or private individuals.
2. Identification of new targeted research to be carried out and the occasions when it can be done, both in private collections and in museums.
3. Determination of priority areas of investigation.
4. Funding research and participation in national and international research calls.

The more specific aims of the research will focus on the following points:

A. Characterisation of supports, frames, canvases and pictorial preparations.
B. Verification of graphic elements underlying the pictorial surface (so-called underdrawing); study of the methods of underdrawing (and of possible techniques for transferring pre-existing preparatory drawings onto the canvas).
C. Identification of pigments and mediums used (palette).
D. Study of the artist’s methods during the construction of the pictorial layers.
E. Verification of any compositional changes or reuse of already painted supports.
F. Examination of any varnishes and protective coatings, as well as the verification of the works’ state of conservation and identification of any undocumented restoration work. 

In order to achieve these objectives, in addition to the acquisition of existing documentation on similar research already carried out by museums, institutions, or private individuals, as mentioned in point 1), it will be necessary to carry out non-invasive survey campaigns, based on imaging techniques (diffuse and special light photography; UV fluorescence infrared reflectography; X-ray; scanning MA-XRF) ) and point spectroscopic techniques (UV-VIS absorption and emission spectroscopy; mid-FTIR – MIR – near-FTIR – NIR – reflection Fourier transform mid and near infrared spectroscopy; Raman spectroscopy; X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy; NMR Mouse).