Lost art. Scientists unravel the mystery of a mysterious medieval nanomaterial
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The latest 3D scanning technologies were used to restore the long-lost technology.< /p> Related video
Zwischgold (“partial gold”) is essentially an ultra-thin foil. The top layer of this material is a layer of gold, and the bottom layer is essentially the base of the material, made of silver. This technology was often used in the Middle Ages to create, for example, altars. Until now, scientists knew very little about this subtle technology, but it seems that they were able to unravel the secret of Zwischgold production, writes Science Alert.
To do this, physicists from the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland have used the latest 3D scanning nanotechnology to uncover the secrets of medieval material. Until now, scientists have been able to study only two-dimensional cross sections of a unique material. However, new research has made it possible to create a three-dimensional representation of the ancient material.
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The study examined four 15th-century specimens, including an altarpiece from a mountain chapel on the Alp-Leigern in Valais, Switzerland, which is now in the Nationalmuseum.
According to physicist Benjamin Watts, they, along with colleagues wanted to visualize the fine details of the material in order to understand how it was made and what problems specialists may face during the restoration of the monuments.
During the study, scientists used ptychographic tomography and were able to put together this “giant Sudoku puzzle”, bringing together details of dimensions in millionths of a millimeter.
The scans showed that the gold layer in the material is only 30 nanometers in size, thinly and evenly distributed over the underlying silver layer. At the same time, pure gold leaf in the Middle Ages, without the use of a silver base, would have a size of about 140 nanometers. That is why the fine production of Zwischgold was such a delicate and cheaper way.
Scholars believe that the gold and silver in the medieval material must have been forged together to create such a thin single foil. This required skill, special tools and jewelry work, which is why the production of Zwischgold was kept secret.
According to scientists, their research proves that the Middle Ages were not dark ages at all – during this period, metallurgy and gilding techniques were on an incredible rise.
Researchers have also identified several flaws in the ancient material. For example, silver in a mixture moves quickly at room temperature and can coat gold in a matter of days. This, in turn, will lead to corrosion, as a result, the material will turn black over time. To prevent this process, medieval craftsmen used resin or ley. But over time, these materials lose their effectiveness and corrosion forms a gap between the metal layer.
Scientists hope that the current study will soon develop a special material that will fill these voids. Thus, restorers will be able to restore works of art.