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Unlocking Secrets Behind Artwork, Artifacts with Headwall Hyperspectral Imaging

The conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA) and the application engineering team at Headwall Photonics collaborated on a hyperspectral project to analyze some of the world 's most treasured paintings, artifacts, and documents.
Mayan vase at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts Boston Takes a New View on its Priceless Antiquities


Fitchburg, MA, November 7, 2013 ‚- The conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA) and the application engineering team at Headwall Photonics collaborated on a hyperspectral project to analyze some of the world’s most treasured paintings, artifacts, and documents. Utilizing Headwall’s large-format Hyperspec® Scanning System which is specifically designed for museums and libraries, artwork and antiquities were scanned with Hyperspec® sensors for both the VNIR (Visible – Near-Infrared) and SWIR (Short-Wave Infrared) spectral ranges. The benefit of using dual sensors is that a particular artifact or document can be thoroughly scanned across the VNIR and SWIR range, yielding a wealth of valuable and never-before-seen spectral information relative to pigments, inks, materials, and features. Classifying this spectral data gives collection-care experts around the world new insight into the valuable assets they manage.

Mayan vase at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Matthew Siegal, Chair of Conservation and Collections Management at the MFA, indicated that “hyperspectral collaboration with Headwall yielded a wealth of information; additionally, the research team jointly worked to establish the necessary work procedures and protocols to protect the historical artifacts throughout the scanning process.”

“For the purpose of cultural preservation, hyperspectral imaging is an invaluable tool that offers conservators the ability to analyze and assess the current state of the historical objects over time,” said Headwall Engineering Director, Peter Clemens. “Additionally, there is a wealth of new research information on these historical objects that becomes uncovered through the use of these spectral imaging techniques.” With both vertical and horizontal scanning system orientations possible, and the use of non-destructive illumination, conservators utilize hyperspectral imaging to provide additional analysis of artifacts and antiquities that may hold answers to long-held secrets and cultural insights.


During the project collaboration with Boston’s MFA conservators, the Headwall engineers scanned a wide range of objects including famous paintings, a Mayan vase, wood block prints, a chessboard, and a marble relief sculpture. Hyperspectral sensing is applicable not just for flat art such as paintings and documents, but for pottery and other artifacts as well. Scanning of an important Mayan vase yielded the presence of cracks never before seen allowing for better preservation steps for the valuable piece.

About The Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The original MFA opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1876, the nation’s centennial. Built in Copley Square, the MFA was then home to 5,600 works of art. Over the next several years, the collection and number of visitors grew exponentially, and in 1909 the Museum moved to its current home on Huntington Avenue.

Today the MFA is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world; the collection encompasses nearly 450,000 works of art. The MFA welcomes more than one million visitors each year to experience art from ancient Egyptian to contemporary, special exhibitions, and innovative educational programs.

For information contact:

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
General Information: 617-267-9300