Birth of the X-Ray and It’s Place in ART

The X-ray was discovered 117 years ago today, in 1895, by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen. “Röntgenograms” or “Röntgen rays” as the physicist referred to them, is electromagnetic radiation of short wavelength produced when high-speed electrons strike a solid target.

Radiography is the process of making a radiograph; producing an image on a radiosensitive surface by radiation other than visible light.

Radiograph of nature

Artists and art historians have been inspired by and utilized radiography to create and uncover works of art. In Art in the making : underdrawings in Renaissance paintings by David Bomford, radiography, infra-red photography and reflectography were used to discover underdrawings in paintings of the Renaissance period.

Photographer Man Ray’s photogram, “a cameraless picture formed by the action of light on an object in direct contact with light-sensitive material” and termed and a rayograph by Tristan Tzara, was first produced in 1921.

“The rayographs revealed a new way of seeing that delighted the Dadaist poets who championed his work, and that pointed the way to the dreamlike visions of the Surrealist writers and painters who followed.”-Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some of Man Rays Rayographs

Rauschenberg DVD

“…This compelling film offers a rich mixture of visual images and engaging commentary that eloquently reveal the man behind the ingenuity”–Container.

Booster (1967), a key work produced at Gemini G.E.L. features a six-foot-high x-ray image of Rauschenberg’s body. It was the largest hand-pulled, single-sheet print ever made at the time, challenging painting’s dominance as a medium. Seemingly random images suffuse Booster, including a chair, an astronomical calendar, two drills, and a photograph of a man in the midst of a long jump — offering viewers an opportunity to bring their own interpretation to the work.-National Gallery of Art