Image Gallery: How Technology Reveals Hidden Art Treasures

Rembrandt's Revision


(Image credit: Andrea Sartorius, © J. Paul Getty Trust)

For centuries, art historians have been aware that older paintings were often hidden beneath the surface of later masterpieces. New, noninvasive scanning technologies have now made it possible to uncover some of the art world's hidden gems.

The image above shows the painting "Old Man in Military Costume" by Dutch master Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Macro X-ray fluorescence was used to reveal an older portrait beneath the image of the old man.

Stonehenge Carvings


(Image credit: Edward Haylan |

Advanced laser-scan surveys have revealed 72 previously unknown Bronze Age carvings of axe-heads and daggers chipped into five of the monoliths at Stonehenge. The weathered carvings are now almost invisible to the naked eye, but would have been easily visible in ages past.

Hidden Van Gogh


(Image credit: TU Delft)

Art historians have known for years that Vincent van Gogh painted over many of his canvases. By using synchrotron radiation-induced X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, scientists were able to reveal the portrait of a woman hidden beneath van Gogh's 1887 painting, "Patch of Grass."

A Fresco, Refreshed


(Image credit: J. Bianca Jackson, Ph.D. and Dominique Martos-Levif)

Art historians used terahertz radiation scanning (the same technology used in airport security scanners) to reveal a man's face in an ancient fresco beneath the surface of a later fresco, "Trois Hommes Armés de Lances" ("Three Men Armed with Lances"), one of the Louvre Museum's fresco treasures.

From Fisticuffs to Family Portrait


(Image credit: Christina Bisulca and the Brandywine River Museum)

Using a technique called confocal X-ray fluorescence, researchers discovered a dramatic painting of a fistfight, "The Mildest Mannered Man," by famed American artist N.C. Wyeth. The painting was hidden beneath a later painting titled "Family Portrait."

Ribbons Removed


(Image credit: Matthias Alfeld)

Scanning macro X-ray fluorescence analysis, performed by a mobile X-ray scanner, found that the subject in Philipp Otto Runge's "Pauline in a White Dress in Front of a Summery Tree Scenery" once wore ribbons in her hair.

Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at and a producer with His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.