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Scientists find beer byproduct used in famous Danish art

Scientists found rye, wheat, buckwheat and barley in works by the "father of Danish painting."

(CN) — A study published Wednesday in Science Advances uncovered the base priming layer of famous Danish Golden Age paintings — and found beer byproducts. Besides helping to preserve the art, the revelation ties together two of the most culturally significant enterprises of the time, art and brewing.

The Danish Golden Age references a productivity and creative boom in the first half of the 19th century. It followed a war that destroyed Copenhagen and left the country bankrupt. The town needed to be rebuilt, which allowed new architectural styles to emerge within the city walls. In addition, the city confines pushed people to communicate with one another more, leading to rich exchanges of ideas. This helped meld the worlds of sciences, philosophy and arts.

Art took on a new life in the Golden Age, with Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, dubbed “the father of Danish painting,” leading the charge. Previously, Danish painters worked to uphold the monarchy. However, with the newfound industrialization and expansion of the middle class, art made its way to the masses and beyond portraits. Eckersberg went on to craft famous works and teach the next generation of notable Danish artists. The Golden Age paintings moved away from portraits and into landscapes, interior scenes and realism. The art from this period is also known for soft light and intense color contrasts.

Fabiana Di Gianvincenzo with the Univerza v Ljubljani / Kobenhavns Universitet and her colleagues pulled 10 previously collected samples from paintings by Eckersberg and his protege, Christen Schiellerup Købke. The team used mass-spectroscopy proteomics techniques, a process that uses mass to determine proteins, their structure and chemical modifiers.

The team found rye, wheat, buckwheat and barley concentrations in seven of the 10 samples. Using historical context, scientists can now corroborate reports of these common brewing byproducts from ingredients such as baker’s yeast. Artists used the compounds as canvas primer — a barrier layer a painter puts over a canvas to prevent rotting and provide a smoother surface for the paint to adhere to.

“Identification of a beer-brewing product in a set of Danish Golden Age artworks is highly relevant for unveiling previously ignored applications concerning a productive activity so meaningful in the history of Denmark and Danish society,” the study authors wrote.

The findings are especially significant for art conservationists who have been working to preserve works from the Golden Age period. Without a complex understanding of a painting’s composition, it can be near impossible to implement proper preserving techniques without damaging the original work.

"Rainbow at Sea With Some Cruising Ships," by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, 1836 (Wikipedia via Courthouse News)
Categories:Arts, Science

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