Seeing beneath the surface

We invited Loughborough-based company 3DX-Ray, which specialises in baggage screening, bomb disposal and industrial inspection, to come and take some images of objects in our collection to help us understand what lies beneath the fabric of the furniture and the painted surfaces of the wood.

James Young from 3DX-RAY setting up the equipment in the Cartoon Gallery

Although historical objects have been x-rayed in the past, we chose 3DX-Ray because they could screen our objects in situ. For each image, a detector panel was placed behind the object, which was then “photographed” with a portable x-ray generator. This directed a stream of high-energy electromagnetic radiation (the same radiation as visible light, but with an extremely short wavelength) at the panel.

The X-ray of the Nubian figure from the Cartoon Gallery

The denser materials in the object, such as metal tacks or gold threads, absorbed the radiation, while the “softer” materials, such as wool or wood, let the radiation through. The resulting image on the detector panel works much like a conventional photograph, although 3DX-Ray’s software then processed each one to give it the soft, almost three-dimensional appearance you see here. The software was originally developed to give customs officers and bomb disposal experts a clearer idea of what they were seeing, to help them make quick decisions when scanning objects.

The X-rays on display in the Orangery. Exhibition on till 22nd July

Because x-ray radiation may be harmful, our 3DX-Ray photographer and the National Trust staff present had to leave the room when each object was photographed, which added to the excitement of the day!

The information we have gathered has been extremely useful in helping us understand our objects, which in turn helps us to find the best way to care for them. We were also amazed by the beauty of the images themselves, which show the artistry that went into creating them, and wanted to share this with you. They are now on display in the Orangery until 22nd July.

Siobhan

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