Zinc oxide has been widely used as a white artist pigment since the end of the eighteenth century. The luminescence properties of this compound have received great interest during the last decades for promising applications in different fields of material science, but their diagnostic implications in the cultural-heritage context have been poorly exploited. This paper is intended to provide a clear picture of the luminescence behavior of zinc white in oil paintings. With this aim, three white pigments and three highly pure (analytical grade) zinc oxides were studied as powder substrates and as painting models by ultraviolet-visible (UV-VIS) fluorescence and Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy. The quenching of the luminescence intensity of the UV excitonic emission due to self-absorption and multiple scattering phenomena has been investigated, pointing out the possible difficulty of detecting this signal with negative consequences in the diagnostics of works of art. By contrast, the UV emission is notably enhanced by interaction with the binder, whereas the visible emission decreases. This phenomenon is probably due to the formation of covalent bonds between zinc atoms and carboxylates from the lipidic medium that are chemisorbed on zinc oxide surfaces.
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