Statues, monuments, ceramics, metal alloys, etc., constituting the main part of the cultural heritage, are all characterized by their three dimensional shape, whereas for paintings the supports, preparatory grounds, paint layers and varnishes can be considered as having two dimensional structures. The complexity of a painting, however, is better expressed by its third dimension. The real essence of a work, in fact, lies in its paint layers and in the optical effects produced by their overlapping. That is the reason why scientific studies on paintings are usually more complex than those regarding other kinds of objects. Even though they have different importance, a painting’s structural elements are all essential for its existence, expressiveness and long term stability. There are no paintings without a support, but there might be paintings without a preparatory ground, even though, in this case, an essential element is missing. The presence of paint layers is certainly a conditio sine qua non for its existence, but the way they were executed in the past, either by the application of a single or multiple paint layers, is equally important. It is quite common to find the presence of varnish finishes on paintings but, again, that is not always the case: sometimes they were applied to function as mere protective layers. This book makes specific reference to canvas and panel paintings. It leaves mural paintings aside, because even though they represent the other great part of polychrome surfaces, yet they go beyond the scope of this book. On the other hand, polychrome wooden statues are included, thanks to their material constitution’s affinity with paintings on movable support.
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