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Mass Spec Proteomics Shows Danish Golden Age Painters Primed Canvas With Beer Brewing Products

Danish painters in the first half of the 19th century used canvas that was likely primed with beer brewing products, according to a mass spec proteomics study in Science Advances this week. The period, known as the Danish Golden Age, produced exceptional artwork, the composition of which researchers from the University of Copenhagen set out to analyze. For their study, they used nano-liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry to analyze proteins extracted from canvas samples of 10 paintings from the National Gallery of Denmark and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, produced by two famous Danish painters in the early 1800s. The proteins they found pointed to the use of animal glue and a material containing cereal grains and baker's yeast – most likely beer or a by-product of beer brewing – as binders in the bottom layer of seven of the canvases, which were all prepared in the same workshops. "This identification was only possible because of the untargeted nature of the MS-based proteomic protocol used," the authors write. "Further application of proteomics to the study of artworks will potentially unravel more currently unknown associations between society and art production, enhancing the relevance of this approach beyond its value for conservation and restoration purposes."