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Home > News > Instant insight: Science and art in harmony

September 24th, 2007

Instant insight: Science and art in harmony

One example of objects recently submitted to in depth investigation are beautiful ancient ceramics with a metallic lustre decoration. This technique was born in the 9th century in factories created by the Arabs during their conquests in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia. With the passing of the centuries, Arab potters spread their know-how all over the Islamic world. It reached Spain and was finally transmitted to the workshops of the Italian Renaissance at the end of the 15th century, giving rise to what is known as majolica ceramics. Lustred ceramics attracted the attention of conservators and scientists on account of the structure of the thin surface film that is responsible for their specific aspect. They exhibit an iridescent shine that sometimes imitates a gold, silver or copper deposit in specular reflection and appears from deep red to bright yellow by diffused light observation. In order to understand this very sophisticated technique and trace its propagation through the ages, a series of investigation were conducted in several materials science laboratories. They showed that the surface film is made of vitreous matter in which nanoparticles of metallic silver and/or copper are embedded. In other words, ancient Islamic potters invented nanotechnology eleven centuries before our solid state physicists.


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