A robot scanner studied space, and now has identified the authenticity of Raphael’s masterpiece

The painting “Madonna and Child”, whose story is almost as mysterious as the Mona Lisa’s smile, has been identified as a genuine Raphael canvas by InsightART. A Czech startup has used a robotic X-ray scanner to examine a piece of art, ESA reports.

The painting, which is more than 500 years old, has long been attributed to Raphael, a contemporary of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, but recently doubts have arisen about its authenticity.

The backstory of Madonna and Child includes some of Europe’s great historical figures, as well as fierce battles and lucrative art deals. By order of Pope Leo X, the canvas was in the Vatican, and the painting also visited the French royal family and Napoleon. However, at the end of the 19th century, the picture disappeared from sight. Now the canvas is in a private collection.

That Raphael was in fact the creator of the masterpiece has been confirmed by research from experts around the world, as well as an international advisory board. And recently this was additionally supported by the fledgling company InsightART, based at the ESA (European Space Agency) business incubation center, operated by Czech Invest, in Prague. A Czech startup is using space detector technology to study art.

The InsightART robotic X-ray scanner has already been used to identify a previously unknown painting by Vincent Van Gogh. The device uses a particle detector developed at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, which has been repurposed for space exploration and manufactured by the Czech company ADVACAM.

“This technology, which is also used to measure radiation on the International Space Station, is capable of detecting and counting single photons and determining their exact wavelength,” explains Joseph Weer, CTO at InsightART. “Whereas a standard X-ray machine only produces black and white images, the RToo scanner produces ‘color’ – or spectral – X-ray images that allow materials to be distinguished based on their elemental composition.”

The artwork was scanned in great detail, from the main layers to the final glaze, revealing in detail the inner structure of Raphael’s painting.

“During this process, it became clear that the work was done by Raphael layer by layer without the help of his assistants and apprentices in the workshop,” underlines Jiří Lauterkranz, restorer and co-founder of InsightART.

The company received business advice and financial support from the ESA Business Incubation Center in Prague.

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