In art conservation, studying microbes may lead to new ways to slow down the deterioration of aging yet priceless artwork, while unmasking counterfeits. That’s what scientists have analysed in the paper for Frontiers in Microbiology, using masterpieces of the great Leonardo Da Vinci.
Crux of the Matter
What’s The Latest Research?
Back in March, JCVI geneticists were collecting swabs from centuries-old art in a private collection housed in Florence, Italy.
As per a recent paper in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, specific microbes were found on 7 of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings.
What Does This Mean?
The swabs confirmed the presence of “oxidase-positive” microbes on painted wood and canvas surfaces. These microbes eat compounds found in paint, glue, and cellulose, in turn producing hydrogen peroxide or water, as byproducts.
What Methods Did They Use?
Earlier, the team had used microbiome analysis, to study the storage conditions of 3 statues retrieved from smugglers, and found their possible geographical origins. For this latest paper, they used Nanopore, a sequencing method that uses protein nanopores embedded in a polymer membrane for sequencing.
Then How Did They Analyze?
- A delicate microaspiration i.e. filtering suction was used to collect debris like dust particles and microbial cells, from surface areas on the drawings.
- Then the DNA was extracted, amplified, and sequenced.
- Finally using optical microscopy, they imaged features of interest in all 7 drawings.
What Else Was Found?
Each drawing had its own unique microbiome or an “independent molecular profile or biological pedigree.” Overall, the bacteria dominated fungi in the drawings’ microbiomes
Types Of Microbiomes Detected
- Bacteria found in human microbiomes: either they came while being handled during restoration or from the artist himself, as the bacteria in dust could “remain in suspension” for long periods.
- Insect microbiomes: by flies and their excreta depositions.
What Do Other Researchers Say?
The other Australian/Italian team researching was unable to conclude definitively whether any of the microbial contaminants date back to Leonardo’s time.
- Salvator Mundi is a painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci dated to C. 1500. It is one of fewer than 20 known works by Leonardo and was the only one to remain in a private collection. It was sold at auction for $450.3 million on 15 November 2017 by Christie’s in New York to Prince Badr bin Abdullah, setting a new record for the most expensive painting ever sold at public auction.
- The Italian Renaissance, a period in Italian history that covered the 15th and 16th centuries, developed a culture that spread across Europe. The French word renaissance means “rebirth” and defines the period as one of cultural revival and renewed interest in classical antiquity after the centuries which Renaissance humanists labelled the “Dark Ages”.