A Kandinsky the Size of a Pinpoint
Using microscopy, Dr. Mario Hentschel of the 4th Institute of Physics at the University of Stuttgart was able to reproduce Wassily Kandinsky’s painting Improvisation 9 with its myriad colors over an area of only 180 x 180 µm – barely larger than a pinpoint.
Kandinsky’s work combined with Hentschel’s current research into micro- and nanooptics make a fascinating example of the interaction between art and science. Even if their means are different, both disciplines have always focused on the pursuit of knowledge and insight. Both make use of the power of observation, the ability to think abstractly, and creativity, albeit in different ways.
The Source of Inspiration
Thanks to its variety of colors and aesthetic beauty, the abstract painting Improvisation 9 by Wassily Kandinsky from 1910 is a striking example of his work during a period in which he combined experiments with the inner workings of his mind and his studies into art theory.
In it, we see a fairytale-like pictorial world immersed in a multifaceted, luminous symphony of color with a rider, a church, a group of figures only dimly recognizable on the left, and a giant figure lying on the right. This creates an interaction between the figurativeness with its formal elements framed like a stained-glass window and the colorfulness detached from any connection to the objects.
The original painting is part of the collection of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
Using Nanostructuring and Microscopy to Shape a Painting
Using a technique called ion beam lithography, Dr. Hentschel drilled tiny holes in a silicon wafer – in microelectronics, a thin slice of bulk silicon. Under the microscope, he was able to see that these nanoholes exhibited vibrant and natural colors, depending on the size and shape of the hole. He was thus able to reproduce Kandinsky’s painting point by point.
We were able to image material precisely at the nanoscale. When we use this for color prints, we see that the structures generate very brilliant and intense colors. This allows us to create miniature artworks with very good color fidelity.
The Underlying Principle: Mie-void Resonance
So-called Mie-void resonance occurs when light is trapped in a spherical cavity, such as a hole, and resonates at specific light wavelengths. These resonances can be controlled by adjusting the size, depth and shape of the hole, allowing to precisely tune the produced color.
By using holes of appropriate depth and diameter, colorful and brilliant images can be created on an extremely small scale, with each hole acting as a pixel of the image.
Mie-voids in a Silicon Wafer
Electron Microscopy Images
Because the colors depend on the geometry of the holes and not on pigments, which can fade over time if exposed to light, this process can conserve the natural appearance of paintings on very small areas for many decades.
The material is also conducive to conservation: Silicon is very hard. It has a high refractive index and, unlike pigments, does not change its properties. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the field of nanoscale color printing, enabling the creation of high-resolution images on a miniature scale.
Dr. Hentschel reproduced Kandinsky’s painting point by point in this complex background, creating the world’s smallest Kandinsky. It can be seen under the microscope next to the original painting in the collection of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.