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Light microscopy


Using a stereomicroscope to study a small sample


Watch the video below to see a conservator explaining how stereomicroscopy is used.

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Reflected light microscopy

We use reflected light microscopy to examine small samples of paint, which have been mounted in resin and polished to reveal the paint layers. The sample is examined in visible light, to study the nature of the paint, for example the colour and particle size of the pigments. The cross section can also be examined in ultra violet (UV) light, to show certain pigments and varnish layers that fluoresce in UV light. paint-cross-section

A sample from a painting in cross section, photographed in reflected light, showing paint layers and pigment particles.

Transmitted light microscopy


Using a transmitted light microscope to study a small sample

Transmitted light microscopy using polarised light involves shining visible light through a sample, and observing how the light behaves when it interacts with the sample. We use this technique to identify different types of fibres and pigments.

Watch the video below to see how a conservator uses reflected and transmitted light microscopy.

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Further information

Watch the video below to see a conservator preparing paint cross sections.

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Find out how microscopy was used in the analysis of paint cross sections from the following paintings: