Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: History of painting


The role of the motor system in the perception of visual art remains to be better understood. Earlier studies on the visual perception of abstract art (from Gestalt theory, as in Arnheim, 1954 and 1988, to balance preference studies as in Locher and Stappers, 2002, and more recent work by Locher et al., 2007; Redies, 2007, and Taylor et al., 2011), neglected the question, while the field of neuroesthetics (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999; Zeki, 1999) mostly concentrated on figurative works. Much recent work has demonstrated the multimodality of vision, encompassing the activation of motor, somatosensory, and viscero-motor brain regions. The present study investigated whether the observation of high-resolution digitized static images of abstract paintings by Lucio Fontana is associated with specific cortical motor activation in the beholder’s brain. Mu rhythm suppression was evoked by the observation of original art works but not by control stimuli (as in the case of graphically modified versions of these works). Most interestingly, previous visual exposure to the stimuli did not affect the mu rhythm suppression induced by their observation. The present results clearly show the involvement of the cortical motor system in the viewing of static abstract art works.

Concepts: Brain, Visual perception, Perception, History of painting, Abstract art, Modernism, Figurative art, Western painting


I measured preference for paintings (Renoir vs. Picasso or Kandinsky vs. Mondrian) in mice. In general mice did not display a painting preference except for two mice: one preferred Renoir to Picasso, and the other preferred Kandinsky to Mondrian. Thereafter, I examined discrimination of paintings with new mice. When exposure to paintings of one artist was associated with an injection of morphine (3.0 mg/kg), mice displayed conditioned preference for those paintings, showing discrimination of paintings by Renoir from those by Picasso, and paintings by Kandinsky from those by Mondrian after the conditioning. They also exhibited generalization of the preference to novel paintings of the artists. After conditioning with morphine for a set of paintings consisting of two artists, mice showed discrimination between two sets of paintings also from the two artists but not in association with morphine. These results suggest that mice can discriminate not only between an artist’s style but also among paintings of the same artist. When mice were trained to discriminate a pair of paintings by Kandinsky and Renoir in an operant chamber equipped with a touch screen, they showed transfer of the discrimination to new pairs of the artists, but did not show transfer of discrimination of paintings by other artists, suggesting generalization.

Concepts: Binary relation, History of painting, Painting, Western painting, Expressionism, Wassily Kandinsky, Cubism


BACKGROUND: Rubens was a master of European Baroque painting and a practitioner of realism. A female model for his paintings of Samson and Delilah and the Three Graces has apparent right-sided breast abnormalities. METHOD AND RESULTS: Examination of the images shows persistent changes. The clinical scenario suggests Mondor’s disease, possibly related to rheumatoid arthritis or chronic infection. DISCUSSION: Visible breast changes such as distortion, skin retraction and nipple deviation warrant concern and require investigation.

Concepts: History of painting


The analysis of paint cross-sections can reveal a remarkable amount of information about the layers and materials in a painting without visibly altering the artwork. Although a variety of analytical approaches are used to detect inorganic pigments as well as organic binders, proteins, and lipids in cross-sections, they do not provide for the unambiguous identification of natural, organic colorants. Here, we develop a novel combined surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), light microscopy, and normal Raman scattering (NRS) approach for the identification of red organic and inorganic pigments in paint cross-sections obtained from historic 18th and 19th century oil paintings. In particular, Ag nanoparticles are directly applied to localized areas of paint cross-sections mounted in polyester resin for SERS analysis of the organic pigments. This combined extractionless non-hydrolysis SERS and NRS approach provides for the definitive identification of carmine lake, madder lake, and vermilion in multiple paint layers. To our knowledge, this study represents the first in situ identification of natural, organic pigments within paint cross-sections from oil paintings. Furthermore, the combination of SERS and normal Raman, with light microscopy provides conservators with a more comprehensive understanding of a painting from a single sample and without the need for sample pretreatment.

Concepts: Pigment, Vermilion, History of painting, Painting, Carmine, Oil painting


Exposure to art increases the appreciation of artworks. Here, we showed that this effect is domain independent. After viewing images of histological stains in a lecture, ratings increased for restricted subsets of abstract art images. In contrast, a lecture on art history generally enhanced ratings for all art images presented, while a lecture on town history without any visual stimuli did not increase the ratings. Therefore, we found a domain-independent exposure effect of images of histological stains to particular abstract paintings. This finding suggests that the ‘taste’ for abstract art is altered by visual impressions that are presented outside of an artistic context.

Concepts: History of painting, Abstract art, Modernism, Western painting, Wassily Kandinsky, Art history


British 19th century painters such as J. M. W. Turner, commonly modified the properties of their paint by using gels called “gumtions”. These gels allowed them to easily tune the paint handling and drying properties. The fascinating properties of these “gumtions” were obtained by adding lead acetate to a ternary system based on mastic resin, linseed oil and turpentine. Herein, we report and investigate in depth the rheological properties of these gels as well as their structure at a molecular and supra-molecular scale.

Concepts: 19th century, History of painting, Paint, Resin, Linseed oil, Oil paint, Varnish, Oil painting


The purpose of this study was to examine normal vision and eye disease in relation to art. Ophthalmology cannot explain art, but vision is a tool for artists and its normal and abnormal characteristics may influence what an artist can do. The retina codes for contrast, and the impact of this is evident throughout art history from Asian brush painting, to Renaissance chiaroscuro, to Op Art. Art exists, and can portray day or night, only because of the way retina adjusts to light. Color processing is complex, but artists have exploited it to create shimmer (Seurat, Op Art), or to disconnect color from form (fauvists, expressionists, Andy Warhol). It is hazardous to diagnose eye disease from an artist’s work, because artists have license to create as they wish. El Greco was not astigmatic; Monet was not myopic; Turner did not have cataracts. But when eye disease is documented, the effects can be analyzed. Color-blind artists limit their palette to ambers and blues, and avoid greens. Dense brown cataracts destroy color distinctions, and Monet’s late canvases (before surgery) showed strange and intense uses of color. Degas had failing vision for 40 years, and his pastels grew coarser and coarser. He may have continued working because his blurred vision smoothed over the rough work. This paper can barely touch upon the complexity of either vision or art. However, it demonstrates some ways in which understanding vision and eye disease give insight into art, and thereby an appreciation of both art and ophthalmology.Eye advance online publication, 13 November 2015; doi:10.1038/eye.2015.197.

Concepts: Eye, Visual perception, Visual acuity, Ophthalmology, Cone cell, History of painting, Western painting, Expressionism


The layering structure of a painting contains a wealth of information about the artist’s choice of materials and working methods, but currently, no 3D noninvasive method exists to replace the taking of small paint samples in the study of the stratigraphy. Here, we adapt femtosecond pump-probe imaging, previously shown in tissue, to the case of the color palette in paintings, where chromophores have much greater variety. We show that combining the contrasts of multispectral and multidelay pump-probe spectroscopy permits nondestructive 3D imaging of paintings with molecular and structural contrast, even for pigments with linear absorption spectra that are broad and relatively featureless. We show virtual cross-sectioning capabilities in mockup paintings, with pigment separation and nondestructive imaging on an intact 14th century painting (The Crucifixion by Puccio Capanna). Our approach makes it possible to extract microscopic information for a broad range of applications to cultural heritage.

Concepts: Pigment, History of painting, Painting, Portable Network Graphics


Honeybees (Apis mellifera) have remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extend beyond learning simple colours, shapes or patterns. They can discriminate landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces. This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates. Here, we investigated whether this capacity extends to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style: Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso. We show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they do not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information for discrimination. When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees even demonstrated some ability to generalize. This suggests that honeybees are able to discriminate Monet paintings from Picasso ones by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each painting style. Our study further suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals-from insects to humans-to extract and categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.

Concepts: Psychology, Species, Insect, Color, Honey bee, History of painting, Painting, Cubism


A novel, non-invasive, imaging methodology, based on the photoacoustic effect, is introduced in the context of artwork diagnostics with emphasis on the uncovering of hidden features such as underdrawings or original sketch lines in paintings. Photoacoustic microscopy, a rapidly growing imaging method widely employed in biomedical research, exploits the ultrasonic acoustic waves, generated by light from a pulsed or intensity modulated source interacting with a medium, to map the spatial distribution of absorbing components. Having over three orders of magnitude higher transmission through strongly scattering media, compared to light in the visible and near infrared, the photoacoustic signal offers substantially improved detection sensitivity and achieves excellent optical absorption contrast at high spatial resolution. Photoacoustic images, collected from miniature oil paintings on canvas, illuminated with a nanosecond pulsed Nd:YAG laser at 1064 nm on their reverse side, reveal clearly the presence of pencil sketch lines coated over by several paint layers, exceeding 0.5 mm in thickness. By adjusting the detection bandwidth of the optically induced ultrasonic waves, photoacoustic imaging can be used for looking into a broad variety of artefacts having diverse optical properties and geometrical profiles, such as manuscripts, glass objects, plastic modern art or even stone sculpture.

Concepts: Photon, Optics, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Laser, Book of Optics, History of painting, Painting