Selected Article


Corrosion investigation of fire-gilded bronze involving high surface resolution spectroscopic imaging


International audience

Gilded bronzes are often affected by severe corrosion, due to defects in the Au layer and Au/Cu alloygalvanic coupling, stimulated by large cathodic area of the gilded layer. Galvanic corrosion, triggered by gilding defects, leads to products growth at the Au/bronze interface, inducing blistering or break-up of the Au layer. In this context, fire-gilded bronze replicas prepared by ancient methods (use of spreadableAu–Hg paste) was specifically characterised by compiling complementary spectroscopic and imaging information before/after accelerated ageing with synthetic rain. Fire-gilded bronze samples were chemically imaged in cross-section at nanometric scale (<200 nm) using high energy and lateral resolution synchrotron radiation photoemission (HR-SRPES) of core levels and valence band after conventional characterisation of the samples by Glow Discharge optical Emission Spectroscopy (GD-OES) and conventional X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). We have found a net surface enrichment in Zn and Snafter fire-gilding and presence of metallic Hg, Pb and Cu within the Au layer. Moreover, the composition distribution of the elements together with their oxidation has been determined. It was also revealed that metallic phases including Hg and Pb remain in the gilding after corrosion. Moreover, selective dissolution of Zn and Cu occurs in the crater due to galvanic coupling, which locally induces relative Sn species enrichment (decuprification). The feasibility advantages and disadvantages of chemical imaging using HR-SRPES to study artworks have been investigated on representative replicas.