Van Gogh Painting Losing Its Luster

Van GoghVincent Van Gogh is famous for the brilliant colors he used in his paintings, but one of them is beginning to fade.

“Flowers in a Blue Vase,” owned by the Kröller-Müller Museum in The Netherlands, is showing signs of deterioration. Specifically, the brilliant yellows are beginning to crack and turn gray.

The museum stated in a press release that it decided to take two tiny samples from the painting and have them analyzed. Imagine being charged with the task of popping off pieces of a Van Gogh painting! Anyway, the samples were sent off to a laboratory that found that a varnish added to protect the painting after the artist’s death included lead that reacted to cadmium in the yellow paint to gradually turn the paint gray.

Even more worrying, the varnish seems to have absorbed some of the underlying paint, thus making it hard to remove without causing damage to the picture. Now other museums owning Van Goghs will need to check to see if this type of varnish was used on their art treasures.

Koen Janssens, who led the research team, stated that, “paintings by Vincent Van Gogh are not static entities for decades and centuries to come. Over a period of 100 years, they can actually be considered a fairly reactive cocktail of chemicals that behaves in unexpected manners.”

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Stonehenge burial may be prehistoric tourist

Archaeologists call him the “Boy with the Amber Necklace”, and ever since he was discovered in 2005 they’ve known he was special. Not only would his jewelry have been rare and expensive back when he was buried 3,550 years ago, but the choice of his grave site was significant too–just three miles from Stonehenge.

Now chemical analysis on his teeth has revealed something else special about him–he isn’t from England at all, but from the Mediterranean. Tooth enamel forms in early childhood and retains oxygen and strontium. Different isotopes of these elements are found in different ecozones and regions, and show where an individual grew up. When scientists analyzed the teeth of the Boy with the Amber Necklace, they found he’d grown up around the Mediterranean. The “boy” was actually about fourteen or fifteen years old, and it’s unclear exactly why he came to southern England and the sacred site of Stonehenge.

This isn’t the first time a burial near Stonehenge has turned out to be from somewhere else. The “Amesbury Archer”, a grown man buried with some of the oldest gold and copper artifacts ever found in the UK, grew up in the foothills of the German Alps some 4,300 years ago.

So were these prehistoric tourists? Well, more like prehistoric pilgrims, or perhaps immigrants coming to work at one of the most sacred and dynamic places in the prehistoric world. People often assume international travel is a new thing, starting in the age of luxury liners and really getting going when international flights became cheap, yet daring individuals and groups have been making long journeys for thousand of years. The Boy with the Amber Necklace and the Amesbury Archer could have taken boats along the coastline and rivers, and would have had to do a lot of walking too. They may have been helped along by a simple yet effective prehistoric navigation system. In the days when the waters teemed with fish and not plastic, and the forests were filled with wildlife and berries instead of discarded soda cans, the trip wouldn’t have been as hard as we think.

[Photo courtesy webmink via Gadling’s flickr pool]