Gold leaf tesserae: tracing the origins of gold using synchrotron-based techniques
UMR 8233, MONARIS, CNRS-Sorbonne Université, 4 Place Jussieu, 75252, Paris, France
2 Art, Archéologie et Patrimoine (UR AAP), Université de Liège, 10 Allée du Six-Août, 4000, Liège, Belgium
3 Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung-und prüfung (BAM), Richard-Willstätter Str 11, 12489, Berlin, Germany
Accepted: 28 December 2022
Published online: 6 February 2023
To gain insight into the possible origin of the gold used in the production of tesserae containing gold leaf less than 0.5 µm thick placed between two layers of glass, we propose a non-destructive synchrotron radiation (SR) XRF protocol based on sequential analysis under optimised analytical conditions. Using this protocol, trace element analysis is achieved with detection limits of 1–6 mg/kg. As Pt and Au have adjacent fluorescence energies, we tested the most challenging situation, when Pt is present in very low concentrations in gold. Data obtained by double-dispersive XRF (D2XRF) and µXRF for fourth–ninth-century mosaics decorating nine Eastern and Western religious buildings show that the Eastern and Western tesserae are made from different alloys. However, these alloys are identical to those used to make gold leaf for gilding, because plastic deformation requires the use of gold alloys with high ductility and malleability. Although trace element composition of gold used in the concerned period is only available for coins, by comparing the amounts of Pt contained in the tesserae and in the coins we show that Roman tesserae are made from Roman gold, as described in the documentary sources. We observe for the Byzantine period the use of a Byzantine gold and of gold supposedly from different stages of recycling, and we suggest the use of Umayyad and Abbasid gold for the production of Islamic tesserae.
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