Technology for technology’s sake: The technical study of gothic miniature boxwood carvings in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario

August 13, 2019

Lisa Ellis (1), Alexandra Suda (1), Ronald Martin (2), Elizabeth Moffatt (3), Jennifer Poulin (3), Heidi Sobol (4), Priam Givord (5), Craig Boyko (1), Ian Lefebvre (1), Andrew J. Nelson (2)
Cultural Heritage Science : Heritage Wood (Book), October 2019: 93-108. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-11054-3_5


Technical study, Boxwood, Miniature carving, Prayer beads, Nuts, Micro CT scanning, Advanced 3D analysis software


This paper describes the evolution and results of a technical study that focused initially on the Thomson Collection of miniature boxwood carvings at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). This work eventually became the AGO’s impetus for its participation in an international exhibit “Small Wonders,” organized with the Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The technical work on early sixteenth century miniature boxwood carvings, which includes both prayer beads and miniature altarpieces, started with X-radiography at the Royal Ontario Museum, followed with in-house photography using a cutting edge but now somewhat more common specialized macro set-up, and ultimately micro-computed tomography (CT) scanning, or high-resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography at Sustainable Archaeology, Western University, London Ontario and Advanced 3D Analysis software (ORS) at the AGO. Secondary digital files were used in “Small Wonders: the VR Experience,” wherein users could enter into a dramatically magnified virtual prayer bead. Scientific analysis of a selection of the artifacts’ coatings, polychromy and adhesives was undertaken by the Canadian Conservation Institute using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR); scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS); thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS); and Raman spectroscopy.

Author Affiliation

(1) Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.
(2) Departments of Anthropology and Chemistry, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.
(3) Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, Canada.
(4) Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
(5) Independent Computational Designer, Toronto, Canada.