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The scientific approach to cultural heritage is a continuously expanding research field. Art and science have become a nice combination. Scientific themes appear in art, among these, photochemistry takes up a prominent position. Articles published in this field during the last two decades are very numerous and spread over a wide and differentiated kind of journals.

This review is not intended to be exhaustive, and even it could not be exhaustive, but aims to give a view of the potential of photochemical and photophysical sciences in the knowledge of cultural heritage objects and in discovering the chemical nature of their constituting materials. To avoid a barren list of authors, titles and achievements, the review has been addressed to some selected and meaningful examples which are described in some detail. They refer to figurative arts, including paintings, tapestries and parchments. Among the large number of their components, attention is focused on polychromatic materials. Two main aspects are concerned: (1) the recognition of artwork components from their photophysical properties and (2) the study of the photochemical impact of light on artworks. For each of these lines, results from laboratory studies and in-situ investigations on real artworks are reported. Particular emphasis is given to the use of portable instrumentation which allows a non-invasive in-situ approach to works of art.

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