Skip to main content
Chemistry LibreTexts

Adapting the Chemical Analysis of Paintings


This manuscript is envisioned as a “living” progress report for my attempt at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to use art conservation methods as a means to help better teach analytical chemistry. The intent is to update this manuscript and web site as a means to provide additional information about what works and what does not work with respect to project based learning with this approach in the Instrumental Methods of Analysis laboratory. This report gives a brief introduction to the chemistry of paintings. Additionally, the different instrumental approaches commonly used to identify various chemical components of paintings are described. Next, this report describes a recent effort at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to bring project-based learning to the upper-level instrumental analysis laboratory. The molecular analysis of a painting (The Buffalo Room, by Robert Chanler) that needed to be conserved was used as the basis for this project. The unique chemical qualities of paintings that make this type of chemical analysis highly challenging are described. Finally, lessons learned from our first attempt to bring forth this type of learning to our students are described.


  • Julie A. Stenken (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)