By Teachers, For Teachers

Chemistry of Conservation


Chemistry of Conservation: How do chemistry, color, and art conservation intersect?

In this lesson, sudents will connect the chemistry concepts of light, energy, and the electromagnetic spectrum to the process of painting conservation.

Time: 34 hours

Grades: 9th-12th

Author: Katharine Collins (Teacher Advisory Panel)

Resources Needed

  • Collections in Contexts
  • Curiosity Interviews
  • Student Materials

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the phenomenon of light at the atomic level and understand how it results in the colors seen in artwork.
  • Explain how art conservators use the electromagnetic spectrum to make decisions when conserving a painting.
  • Use the electromagnetic spectrum to analyze Thomas Gainsborough’s painting The Blue Boy.

By the end of this lesson, students will know:

  • Light exists in waves. We see the colors in paintings because our eyes process the light waves reflecting off the paint.
  • Painters use pigments to create different colors in paintings. Each pigment has a different chromophore, an atom or group of atoms whose presence is responsible for the color of a compound. Analyzing and understanding the pigments used in painting is vital to restoring and preserving artwork.
  • Energy and frequency are directly proportional: The higher the frequency, the higher the energy, and the lower the frequency, the lower the energy.

Supported Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

  • HS-PS4-4. Evaluate the validity and reliability of claims in published materials of the effects that different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation have when absorbed by matter.
  • HS-PS4-5. Communicate technical information about how some technological devices use the principles of wave behavior and wave interactions with matter to transmit and capture information and energy.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Anchor Standard #7 Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #9 Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #11 Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.