Selective dating of paint components Radiocarbon dating of lead white pigment

Laura Hendriks, Irka Hajdas, Ester S. B. Ferreira, Nadim C. Scherrer, Stefan Zumbühl, Markus Küffner, Leslie Carlyle, Hans Arno Synal, Detlef Günther

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Lead white is a man-made white pigment commonly used in works of art. In this study, the possibility of radiocarbon dating lead white pigments alone and in oil paints was explored using well-dated lead white pigments and paints. Resulting 14C ages on lead white pigments produced following the traditional stack process, where carbonate groups results from the incorporation of CO2 originating from fermentation, matched the production years, while radiocarbon dating of lead white made using other industrial processes indicate that 14C depleted CO2 was used in their production. The method was applied to two case studies, where lead carbonate samples were dated in two oil paintings, one Baroque and one from the 20th century. We hereby show that the lead white pigment can be dated by 14C and used as proxy for the time of creation of an artwork. Additionally, a two-step method was developed to allow 14C analysis of both the lead white pigment and oil binder from the same sample. A single lead white paint sample can yield two distinct radiocarbon ages, one from the carbonate and one from the natural organic binder. This study thus proposes new strategies for 14C dating of artworks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-493
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • carbonates
  • lead white
  • micro-sampling
  • paintings
  • pigment
  • radiocarbon dating
  • stack process


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