Cabinet by an unknown maker, French 1580 with minor additions from the late 1850s. Paul Getty against the advice of his curators, who thought it was a fake from the 19th century. But knowledge, even in a museum, changes over time.
Carved walnut and oak with painted panels, linen and silk lining. In 2001, one of our curators launched a re-examination.
Nine are inscribed on patches of bare white-washed wall.
A few signatures were once so conspicuous that they may have been intended to contribute to the aesthetics of the work.
Plants and animals naturally incorporate both the abundant C-12 isotope and the much rarer radiocarbon isotope into their tissues in about the same proportions as the two occur in the atmosphere during their lifetimes.
When a creature dies, it ceases to consume more radiocarbon while the C-14 already in its body continues to decay back into nitrogen.
Some signatures float upon a blank area of a white-washed wall or a dark void.
They performed tests based on techniques including X-ray radiography and scanning electron microscope and energy dispersive X-Ray spectrometry.
This approach definitely proved that the canvas sample contains a level of radioactive carbon found in 1959, years after Léger's death in 1955.
The authors relied on the particularities of 14C concentration in the atmosphere, which are well-known for the period ranging from the mid-1950s to the present.
This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature.
C-12 is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C-14.