City Life Org – Metropolitan Museum of Art receives National Endowment for the Humanities grant to pursue new biomolecule analysis demonstrated on chia oil in Mexican lacquerware and paintings

Tray (Batea) with Turnus Provoked to War by Aeneas, ca. 1764, Jose Manuel de la Cerda. Wood, painted lacquer, gold (detail). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Fund and Sansbury-Mills Fund, 2020. The Marriage of the Virgin, California. 1690, Jose Sanchez. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 2016.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it had received a two-year research and development grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support the biochemical analysis of chia oil found in Mexican lacquerware and paints. new Spanish artists from the 16th to the 19th century. The study aims to create, establish and disseminate a scientific methodology for the identification of biomolecules in art – using chia oil as a model – which can also be used to study other natural biological materials in a large variety of heritage objects. The project is undertaken in collaboration with the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Max Hollein, French director of Marina Kellen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: “The Met is committed to studying, treating and interpreting all areas of its vast collection. We are extremely grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting this important work which will respond to the growing need for new scientific tools and research strategies that can help us better identify and understand the works of non-European cultures. It is an honor to have as collaborators in this important effort our esteemed colleagues from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library, Weill Cornell Medicine and Grupo Artesanal Tecomaque.

Julie Arslanoglu, research scientist in the Met’s Department of Scientific Research and principal investigator of the study, commented: “Plant and animal products, especially from non-European cultures, are among the least studied materials of cultural heritage, but they can help us with precision. identify and interpret objects, reveal their manufacture and ensure their proper conservation and preservation. Because there is such a variety of these materials, we need to develop new approaches to fill this gap. Chia oil is culturally significant through its artistic use, and for the three-part approach of this study – which relies on the analysis of lipids, proteins and DNA – this is the model we have. selected to demonstrate how collaborative research can produce methodologies that tell us more about how, where and why certain works of art were made.

Chia and its artistic uses in Mesoamerican cultures have been documented for over 4,500 years, but there is currently no method to identify chia oil in art or distinguish it from flaxseed or other oils. common European driers. It is an ideal model for this study because the Met has access to traditionally prepared chia oil from local Mexican plants as well as lacquerware and paints from New Spain known or suspected to contain chia. chia oil. Additionally, The Met has partnerships with experts who can speak to the cultural significance and historical associations of its continued use since the pre-Hispanic era leading to a greater understanding of the art of Mexico from the 16th to 19th centuries.

NEH Grant Project Staff

At the Met, the project will be led by Julie Arslanoglu, principal investigator and research scientist in the Department of Scientific Research. José Luis Lazarte, Assistant Conservator in the Paintings Conservation Department, will act as co-principal investigator and advise on research. Dr. Ronda Kasl, Curator of Latin American Art at the American Wing, will also serve as Co-Principal Investigator. At the Hispanic Society Museum & Library, Object Curator Monica Katz will act as a consultant on Mexican lacquer objects. Dr. Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine will assist with laboratory DNA research and data analysis. The project would not be possible without ARt and Cultural HEritage: Natural Organic Polymers by Mass Spectrometry (ARCHE), co-led by The Met’s Arslanoglu and Professor Caroline Tokarski. ARCHE is a partnership between the Met and the University of Bordeaux; it was created in 2019 as an international research project under the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) specializing in the study of organic polymers and the chemistry of their molecular interactions by mass spectrometry. More information about the partnership can be found on the Met’s website here.

The project will also include a growing number of international collaborations with museums and organizations, including the Grupo Artesanal Tecomaque in San Martín Tecorrales in the state of Guerrero, Mexico.

Grant Title: “A New Tripartite Approach to Biomolecule Analysis for the Identification of Unknown Artistic Materials Applied to the Use of Chia Oil in New Spanish Art.” The opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this press release do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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