Dating of paintings

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Is it possible to pinpoint the exact date that a painting was created using scientific dating methods?


Why not?

There is no dating method that can say, "this was painted in 1900,” or “this was painted between 1900 and 1920.” The range is generally much wider.

So when is it useful to perform scientific dating?

If there is a question of whether a painting is 400 years old or 100 years old, we have reason to perform scientific dating.


Carbon-14 dates organic material. For paintings and drawings, this means that we can carbon-date canvas, wood and paper. We can also carbon-date ivory, bone and horn objects. The results are always plus or minus 40 years, which means that there is an 80-year range of accuracy. For example, a piece of canvas carbon-dated to 1900 would have been produced some time between 1860 and 1940.


Dendrochronology refers to the scientific method of dating wood, using the presence of tree rings. It is the best dating method available for panel paintings. Unfortunately, dendrochronology has many practical limitations. The way that the panels have been cut has a large impact on the ability to see and interpret tree rings.


Thermoluminescence dates ceramics, or clay that has been fired. The dates provided by thermoluminescence are not precise, because of common contamination problems. In the best of cases, the range is 25 percent. Typically, the range is 40 to 50 percent. This means that when thermoluminescence results say that a terracotta sculpture is 400 years old, it is really between 200 and 600 years old.

The date of creation of this Aztec deity was narrowed down to the early 1500's using thermoluminescence
The date of creation of this Aztec deity was narrowed down to the early 1500s using thermoluminescence

We offer all three methods of scientific dating to our clients. To learn more, contact us

By phone: 212-658-0466

We typically respond to inquiries within 24 hours.