As part of its Museum Current lecture series, which focuses on recent scholarship, discoveries, and trends in Museum Studies, the McMullen Museum invited Head of Scientific Research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Visiting Professor of Museum Studies at Boston College Richard Newman for a brief review of the history of science in art museums followed by three stories from the MFA’s research lab. One story focuses on the “Boston throne,” a marble sculpture, probably of fifth-century BCE Greek origin, whose authenticity has often been questioned. A second story focuses on the many uses of madder, a family of plants whose roots provide a red dye used around the world on textiles and in paints (including on Egyptian mummy portraits). The third story involves an unusual chewing-gum-like resin (mopa mopa) used by the Inca and craftspeople in southern Colombia to decorate wooden objects.
Richard Newman has been a research scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts since 1986. He has an undergraduate degree in art history, a graduate degree in geology, and completed a three-year apprenticeship in art conservation science at the Harvard Art Museums. He has received research grants to study stone sculpture in India, paintings by Diego Velázquez in Spain, and cultural heritage research In Japan. He oversees a lab that carries out analyses on 100–200 objects from the MFA collection each year and collaborates with curators and conservators at other museums, including most recently the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Field Museum in Chicago.
This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on September 19, 2019.