Muscle proteins found in art samples from mid-18th century Chile Church murals: New Study

Churches throughout the world are famous for the mesmerizing mural paintings depicting biblical themes.  Recently, researchers have identified muscle proteins in art samples from the mid-18th CE murals of Andean churches of the Colonial era.  They have conducted investigations on the protein binders in micro-samples from church mural paintings.

figure of Saint Christopher and sample locations, Credits: Ivana K. Levy, Ricardo Neme Tauil, Ana Rosso, Maria P. Valacco, Silvia
Moreno, Fernando Guzmán, Gabriela Siracusano, Marta S. Maier, Finding of muscle proteins in art samples from mid-18th century murals by LC–MSMS, Journal of Cultural Heritage, Volume 48, 2021, Pages 227-235, ISSN 1296-2074,

Two regions of churches, (churches of San Andrés de Pachama and Virgen de la Natividad de Parinacota) of the northern province of Chile are selected for this scientific heritage study. The main objective of the researchers was to study the painting structure and technique of murals of these 18th-century churches.

Researchers have collected these micro-samples using the scalpel from the mural paintings of the churches before the initiation of the restoration process. They have used LC–MSMS (Liquid Chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry) method for material analysis of art samples of the mural paintings. They have found collagen & egg white and yolk proteins in the samples via microscopic study. It points toward the occurrence of the tempera painting technique. They also found, for the first time, the muscle proteins in 2 micro-samples.

The presence of collagen and muscle proteins in the micro-samples might be attributed to bovine and llama. Since pre-Hispanic times, these species are domesticated camelid used as the source of nutrition and transportation of things in the Andes region.

Tempera is a permanent painting technique. It is a fast-drying medium comprising colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium. The binder most probably consists of glutinous material E.g., egg yolk.

The research was conducted by Ivana K. Levy, Ana Rosso, Maria P. Valacco, Silvia Moreno, Marta S. Maier, Ricardo Neme Tauil of Universidad de Buenos Aires, Fernando Guzmán of Universidad Adolfo Ibá˜nez, Gabriela Siracusano of Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For the original research article, tap on the Journal of Cultural Heritage.

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