www.spectroscopyforart.com                                            Last updating:  25/07/2013


Gottfried Matthaes


The spectroscopic Dating of Art Objects
in the Laboratory of the Museo d'Arte e Scienza, Milan


The scientific dating and classification of wood
current situation

The oldest – and still most commonly used – way for determining the age of antiques is based on the deterioration or modification of the material over time.
Some examples:  bronze and iron patinas, the craquelures of paintings, the fading of colours, the deterioration of wood, etc.
So far the lack of suitable instruments has prevented absolute dating.

Halfway through the last century, two scientific methods (radiocarbon and dendrochronology) were devised which immediately proved to be of extreme interest for the study of the Earth and of humanity. It was established and acknowledged, however, that their applicability for the dating of single antiques was scant. There is a vast literature on the advantages and limitations of these methods, also to be found on the Internet.

The invention of computer-aided spectroscopy, around 1950, simplified and enhanced the analysis of materials. The composition of the same, particularly in the case of organic materials, is represented by the peaks and valleys of a curve (absorption spectrum) eliminating the need for costly and complicated chemical analyses. Variations, such as those induced by ageing, for instance, can be seen in this curve in the form of clearly visible and measurable displacements of the curve’s peaks.

Around 1993 Gottfried Matthaes, physicist and director of the Milan Museum, broke the barrier of the datability of wood by chemical analysis. It was discovered that the displacement along the curve of the absorption peaks of certain molecules corresponded to the progressive increase in their age irrespective of temperature, humidity, and place of origin.

Description of the method

List of datable woods

How to take wood samples

Dating of ivory 

The scientific laboratory in Milan and its branch

Acknowledged value of the method and FAQ


Instructions on sample taking and prices



Elephant tusk or Plastic? 


Today it is possible to recognize authentic ivory
very easily

Musical instrument in ivory, Africa

Buddha temple, China (ivory)

Classification of the material

Sometimes, in addition to elephant tusks, the horns of other animals and some kinds of bone are inaccurately included in the category of ivory. Furthermore, increasingly perfect synthetic materials are being produced today which cannot be distinguished from ivory by their appearance alone.

All these materials consist of distinct molecules which can be recognized simply and clearly using spectrographic analysis (
see fig. right) In order to perform the test, it is sufficient to extract a few milligrams of material (household drill) and mail the sample to a specialized laboratory.


in Milan: Dr. Peter Matthaes
for Germany: Dr. Martin Matthaes

For authentic ivory it is possible to carry out a test to establish its age, but the procedure is more complicated because in order to take the sample it is necessary to bring or send the object to the Museum’s central laboratory in Milan or to the German branch where it will remain for at most half an hour.
Ivory is characterized by its hardness, compactness, lustre and resilience, characteristics due to its chemical composition. The main element is represented by inorganic substances such as phosphate and calcium fluoride, the age of which is not measurable. But there are also organic substances present which undergo change with the passage of time according to biological laws. Analysis with infrared spectroscopy shows up the molecules present in the material permitting the ivory’s inorganic substances to be clearly distinguished from the organic ones. Analytical dating methods can thus be applied to the latter focusing on selected and measurable molecules.

The application of spectroscopic analysis for the dating of organic materials is patented
(It. Patent Nr. 01266808 - G. Matthaes, 1993)

PRICES (VAT not included): Classification of material: Euro 100 for an analysis. Dating of an ivory object: Euro 150.

For more information: www.IvoryAuthenticityandAge.com



The scientific laboratory of the "Museo d'Arte e Scienza"
at the service of art

Museo d'Arte e Scienza - Milan
18 rooms and over 2,000 items on display

Via Q. Sella, 4 -20121 Milano -  Piazza Castello
Opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 10:00-18:00
Entrance: 8 - reduced 4
Guided tours:
(min.10 people) 10

information: Tel:+390272022488. Fax:+390272023156

E-mail: info@museoartescienza.com



The Museum laboratory’s mission is to improve existing scientific methods and elaborate new methods for the ascertainment of the authenticity of art objects. The laboratory’s instruments and know-how for the determining of authenticity are at the disposal of collectors, art experts, restorers, art galleries and museums. (The staff of the laboratory, who speak the main European languages, are at your disposal for any explanations). The laboratory of the Museo d'Arte e Scienza is a non-profit facility and is independent from every point of view.

Tests carried out by the laboratory:  

Spectroscopic dating and characterization of wooden objects

Microscopic tests on paintings, antique bronzes, excavated pottery, etc.

Examination of underlying layers using infrared reflectography

on Ivory objects

Analyses with
UV-Wood’s light


Further analyses performed by the laboratory:
Spectroscopic chemical analyses on pigments, glues, encrustations, patinas, products of corrosion. Scientific, practical and instrumental tests of authenticity on: ivory, amber, pigments, glues, metal products of corrosion .


For further info:  

www.AfricanArtAuthenticity.com and other sites


Examples of the applicability of spectroscopic dating

paintings and frames



musical instruments





African art

Oriental art

and many other possibilities




www.MuseoArteScienza.com - Sections of the "Museo d'Arte e Scienza": 6 rooms dedicated to the ascertainment of authenticity in art and antiques, 5 rooms on Leonardo da Vinci's "Treatise on Painting" and his activities in Milan, 5 rooms dedicated to African Art and Buddhist Art, 2 Scientific Laboratories.

www.LeonardoDaVinciMilano.com - Two permanent exhibitions: "Leonardo Citizen of Milan" and  "Appreciating Art through the Eyes of Leonardo" from his "Treatise on Painting".

www.AuthenticAfricanBronzesandCeramics.com -  Dedicated to the authenticity of African artworks in bronze, stone and pottery. The scientific laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza has developed valid methods for telling authentic African objects from copies and fakes.

www.ArtAndScienceHandbook.com - The most complete and scientifically valid guide to ascertaining the authenticity of European and non-European antiques on an objective basis (540 pages and more than 2,000 colour illustrations in 3 volumes and 3 languages).

www.Paintingsauthenticity.com - Information about the authenticity of modern paintings and antique paintings.

www.AntiqueFurnitureAuthenticity.com - A list of possible methods for determining the authenticity of furniture based on objective factors.

www.Excavatedartauthenticity.com - "A list of all the possible ways of determining, on the basis of objective factors, the authenticity of excavated pottery, glass or bronze items from Southern Italy, the Mediterranean Basin, China and South America.".

www.AfricanArtAuthenticity.com - "Art and Life in Black Africa", The African Art didactic section of the Museum (5 rooms and over 350 objects).  

www.Matthaes.org  - The history of the G. Matthaes Foundation from the opening of the painting school in Dresden in 1906 up to the Museum "Arte e Scienza" in Milan.

www.CopiesAndFakesInArt.com - Ample further descriptions for ascertaining authenticity in art in the individual fields of antiques.

www.IvoryAuthenticityAndAge.com - Ivory, bone and horn can now be spectroscopically dated and accurately identified.

www.arteautentica.it - The Museum's scientific laboratory is in charge of the investigation of the authenticity in art and antiques and is available to individuals, collectors, art experts, restorers and museums.




Museo d’Arte e Scienza di Gottfried Matthaes S.R.L.
Sede legale e amministrativa: Via Q. Sella 4 – 20121 Milano
Partita IVA e Codice Fiscale 03191710106
C.C.I.A.A MILANO: 1343958 – Cap. sociale €