ITHACA, N.Y. – Richard Johnson can see right through the masterpieces of Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
The Cornell University electrical and computer engineering professor is a digital art detective, able to unlock the mysteries of a work's age and authenticity by analyzing its underlying canvas or paper.
Using high-resolution X-ray images, the 64-year-old academic can actually determine if paintings came from the same bolt of hand-loomed canvas, each of which has a varying thread density pattern that can be as unique as a fingerprint. Linking multiple pieces of canvas to the same bolt can shore up arguments for authenticity and even put works in chronological order.
It's a valuable service to world-class museums that comes through the unlikely cross-pollinating of traditional art history and contemporary computer science.