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2.6.7 Evidence of lead-soap aggregate formation

The red rooftops at the left edge in View of Delft (L12, Figures 2.31a,b) now appear pinker in tone and show a remarkable grainy texture with masses of protruding white lumps.1 Visual inspection of these white lumps in the past suggested Vermeer added sand or large lumps of lead white pigment to his paint in order to create pronounced textural effects. Through analysis we now know that the lumps were not added deliberately, but are a frequently occurring type of chemical degradation caused by interactions between metal (ions) and fatty acids in the paint, which can take on various manifestations, including aggregates that break through the paint surface. The whitish lumps are also visible in the X-radiograph of the painting, where they show up as tiny light spots in the dark paint of the roof tops (Figure 2.31c).

Figure 2.31a: Microscope detail of the red rooftops in
View of Delft (L12) showing masses of protruding lead soap aggregates in the red paint of the rooftops (Image: A. van Loon).

Figure 2.31b: Detail of the red rooftops in
View of Delft (L12). The paint appears pinker where the lead soap aggregates have broken through the paint.

Figure 2.31c: Same detail of the red rooftops in the X-radiograph of View of Delft (L12). The lead soap aggregates are visible as tiny white spots. The light part of the X-ray is due to the stretcher bar.


P. Noble et al., Preserving our Heritage: Conservation, Restoration and Technical Research in the Mauritshuis, Zwolle 2009, pp. 176-177 and A. van Loon, 'De korrelige verf in Vermeers Gezicht op Delft: Nieuwe onderzoeksgegevens', kM 2009, pp. 10-13.

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