EXPERIMENTAL technology designed to determine the age of ceramics by scientific means is now being put to use at the heart of the Chinese works of art trade.
A leading appraiser using a spectrometer to help identify fakes
has chosen the new state-owned superstore, Beijing Antique City, as
the site to demonstrate its potential.
In 2005, ATG reported that two teams of Australian scientists
were using spectrometry to analyse the glazes, pigments and 'paste'
of Oriental ceramics. This 'fingerprinting' technique allowed them
to record the many chemical components in a ceramic object, which
together can indicate the geographic location and even the specific
kiln where it was fired.
At the time the technology was just four years old, but both
teams spoke of how establishing a database of chemical profiles for
different regions and historical periods would be the ultimate goal
of this research.
Now Guan Haisen, a regular face on the Chinese equivalent of
The Antiques Roadshow, is using bespoke technology
designed for him by the Florida-based company Ocean Optics.
The portable system uses a laser to 'burn' away a microscopic
area of the object under test. The 'non-invasive' method removes a
sample that is invisible to the naked eye and causes a plasma to
form that can then be analysed for the key elements of interest,
such as chemicals used to simulate the process of ageing.
The results are available immediately.
Guan Haisen's goal is to make this type of scientific
verification standard practice when buying and selling Chinese
porcelain: his business, Guanhaisen Appraisers Antique Technical
Company, is provocatively located in the new state-owned centre
Beijing Antique City.
With more than 600 dealers across four storeys, it is now the
largest Chinese antiques trading centre in Asia.
Science has long been used to reveal the reproductions and fakes
that are so common in the history of Chinese ceramics. Today, most
ancient artefacts are dated using the thermoluminescence or TL test
that, by using heat to measure accumulated radiation, gives the
approximate date of the last firing.
Oxford Authentication remains commonplace in the rubber-stamping
of ancient ceramic wares, and is constantly evolving, but in recent
times a shadow has been cast over its reliability. It is possible
to influence a TL test by exposing the ceramic object to low
degrees of radiation; one recent report in the Chinese press
claimed that placing porcelain in an airport X-ray check would
'age' the surface by "200 years per second".
It is the knowledge that the fakers will continue to puncture
holes in "water-tight" scientific analysis that permits senior
members of London's highly respected Oriental works of art trade to
treat technological 'breakthroughs' with a degree of scepticism.
But most remain open to the possibility that spectrometry will have
a place in future connoisseurship.
By Roland Arkell