Forensic science applied to art

It’s amazing the jobs that people have and the uses to which scientific techniques can be put.  Take forensic art investigation for example.  As a forensic pollen specialist, of all people I should know the value of cross-discipline application of forensic techniques, but I hadn’t ever really heard of forensic art.  Yet here is forensic art in action, re-assigning a piece of art to da Vinci – altering the value of the painting from NZ$42,000 to a staggering NZ$350 million: How do Experts Authenticate Art? They’ve used a combination of techniques to produce a convincing result: radiocarbon dating places the age at a time consistent with da Vinci, brush stroke analysis demonstrates probable left-handedness.  A faint fingerprint was found on the canvas, which matched one found on a canvas known to be a da Vinci that is hanging in Vatican City.

However, I can’t help but wonder whether this evidence meets the standard of proof required in criminal or civil cases.  How do we know that the fingerprint on the known da Vinci actually belonged to da Vinci?  A good lawyer would trash that in seconds: maybe da Vinci had an assistant who also handled his pictures.  What is the error on the radiocarbon date?  What is the risk of radiocarbon contamination?  Was da Vinci definitely left-handed?  What is the likelihood that the painter was left-handed?  Perhaps I am just a cynic who should allow art to be appreciated…


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