Craquelure is the term we use to describe the visible network of cracks on the surface of a painting or object. This cracking is caused by the shrinking of paint or canvas.
Conservator Spike Bucklow studied the development of craquelure patterns that form on objects over time using digital technology. With this technology, Bucklow created models that connect a crack pattern to a specific craft tradition. Using a mathematical technique called multidimensional scaling (MDS), he examined 600 paintings from four defined categories (Italian, Flemish, Dutch, and French, from 14th - 18th centuries). His study concluded that paintings from each region possessed a characteristic craquelure. Some fissures are thin and delicate while others are deep and jagged. He determined that craquelure patterns are contingent upon the materials used by the artist, the application of materials, canvas type, and paint chemistry.
Determining Authenticity of Craquelure
When craquelure that develops on an object's surface over time is compared to craquelure induced through chemical processes in a very short period of time, we can observe a distinctive difference in the pattern of the fissures. Induced craquelure occurs in regular patterns, while craquelure that develops over many decades or centuries exhibits irregular patterns. Appraisers of fine art recognize the pattern of craquelure on the surface of a painting or object is one of many factors analyzed in the determination of age, authenticity and ultimately value.
Spike Bucklow, "A Stylometric Analysis of Craquelure," in Computers and Humanities. Vol. 31, no. 6 (1998) pp. 503-521.
Pam Frost Gorder, "Digital Detectives Reveal Art Forgeries," in Computing in Science and Engineering. Vol. (March/April 2005) pp. 5-8.