A Nondestructive Methodology for the Study of Colored Enamels: Insights into Manufacturing and Weathering Processes


Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. e-mail: juliaromero@ugr.es


We studied ancient enamels on gilded copper from a collection of archeological horse harness pendants of the Museo Instituto Valencia de Don Juan (Madrid, Spain) to test the benefits of a new, nondestructive analytical methodology based on chemometric analysis (i.e., Principal Component Analysis, PCA) on micro-ATR-FTIR spectral data and chemical quantification using SEM-EDS. The novelty of this approach was threefold: (i) PCA allowed the discrimination of the different harness pendants of known origin and attributed to the 14th and 15th centuries according to the chemical complex composition, nanostructure, glass weathering, and/or coloring mechanisms of each colored enamel, separately (i.e., red, purple, blue, and white), (ii) it is a cheap, easily available and nondestructive methodology that enables us to (iii) draw archeological conclusions about the quality of the manufacturing process, reassess the chronology of these objects and attempt to attribute them to different workshops according to the different traditional recipes identified. In particular, the enamels were made of alkali and/or alkaline earth lead-glass with a wide range of chemical compounds in the form of pigments or opacifiers. Two types of coloring mechanisms were identified, colloidal particles such as copper-ruby for red enamels, and ionic mechanisms such as Fe(II) and Co(II) to achieve a blue pigments; Mn(III) in the purple pigment; and two kind of white enamels were identified, i.e., tin oxide as an opacifier and uranium oxide. In addition, we established the reason for the poor state of conservation of some of the enamels by means of the identification of depolymerization and ion exchanges, well-known harmful effects of glass weathering, and finally a chronology was assigned for some of these pieces according to the enamel composition.