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Psychophysical estimation of the best illumination for appreciation of Renaissance paintings

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 September 2006

A variety of light sources are used in museum environments where the main concern is to prevent damaging effects of the light on paintings. Yet, the visual impression of an artistic painting is strongly influenced by the intensity and spectral profile of the illumination. The aim of this work was to determine psychophysically the spectral profile of the illumination preferred by observers when seeing paintings dated from the Renaissance époque and to investigate how their preferences correlate with the color temperature of the illumination and with the chromatic diversity of the paintings. Hyperspectral images of five oil paintings on wood were collected at the museum and the appearance of the paintings under five representative illuminants computed. Chromatic diversity was estimated by computing the representation of the paintings in the CIELAB color space and by counting the number of nonempty unit cubes occupied by the corresponding color volume. A paired-comparison experiment using precise cathode ray tube (CRT) reproductions of the paintings rendered with several illuminant pairs with different color temperatures was carried out to determine observers' preference. The illuminant with higher color temperature was always preferred except for one pair where no clear preference was expressed. The preferred illuminant produced the larger chromatic diversity, and for the condition where no specific illuminant was preferred the number of colors produced by the illuminant pair was very similar, a result suggesting that preference could have been influenced by chromatic diversity.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Sérgio M. C. Nascimento, Department of Physics, Minho University, Campus de Gualtar, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal. E-mail:
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Visual Neuroscience
  • ISSN: 0952-5238
  • EISSN: 1469-8714
  • URL: /core/journals/visual-neuroscience
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