Non-Invasive and Spectroscopic Techniques for the Study of Alonso Cano’s Visitation from the Golden Age of Spain

January 4, 2021


Non-Invasive and Spectroscopic Techniques for the Study of Alonso Cano’s Visitation from the Golden Age of Spain


Eloisa Manzano, Louis Rodrigo Rodríguez-Simón, Natalia Navas, Luis Fermin Capitán-Vallvey




Studies in Conservation


Alonso Cano is considered one of the most original and brilliant artists from the Spanish Golden Age (known in Spanish as Siglo de Oro), a period of flourishing in arts and literature. He was also the founder of the Baroque painting school of Granada. This paper focuses on the painting the Visitation painted by Cano in 1652 and housed in the main chapel of Granada Cathedral. This study is part of an ambitious 11-year project aimed at understanding Cano's working technique by considering both the evolution of his painting style and the reconstruction of his color palette. Through this extensive project we intended to provide necessary scientific evidence to help in authorship verification in cases of controversial attribution to Cano of paintings included in the current catalogue of the artist. To this end, the Visitation was included in the project and a series of non-invasive and minimally invasive analytical techniques were applied to gain a wider insight into the artist's technique and the materials used to create his paintings. Macroscopic and microscopic examination of the surface, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet fluorescence, and X-radiography were performed. The underdrawings found reveal some significant changes in the composition of the figures. The results of optical microscopy, UV fluorescence microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy revealed a quasi-sculptural treatment of the figures, where the artist tested different pigment:binder ratios and applied several pictorial layers of different thicknesses. SEM with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and micro-Raman spectrometry were used to identify the pigments present in individual layers. The results showed that pigments generally available in the seventeenth century were used, including white lead, malachite, copper resinate, vermilion, red lake, lapis lazuli, smalt, red lead, bone black, and carbon black. Additionally, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis suggested the use of linseed oil binding medium.




Alonso Cano, pigments, Baroque painting, spectroscopic techniques, non-invasive imaging