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02.03.2020

Tru Vue Blog: Drawings by Rembrandt: Connecting Art History, Science and Conservation symposium

Samantha Taylor received an Icon Tru Vue CPD grant to support her in attending the 'Drawings by Rembrandt: Connecting Art History, Science and Conservation symposium' which took place in Amsterdam in February as one of the final events commemorating the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death. 

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The symposium presented the outcomes of a collaborative research project entitled Drawing Out Rembrandt, which brought together experts in the field of master drawings from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), the Rijksmuseum and the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht. This 2-day event attracted over 100 delegates with an interest in the graphic works of Rembrandt and included students, scientists, curators and conservators from around Europe and beyond – some had travelled from as far away as Taiwan and the US.

The symposium took place at the Rijksmuseum, and on the first day we were welcomed by Taco Dibbits, director of the museum. The introductory presentation was given by Idelette Van Leeuwen, head of paper and photograph conservation. Idelette spoke about the research project Drawing out Rembrandt which began in 2017, focusing on the Rijksmuseum’s collection of ink drawings by Rembrandt.

The aim of the project was to gather information regarding the drawings’ creation, history and materials. A team of conservators, art historians and scientists investigated the history of the drawings from when they entered the collection, and used advanced imaging and non-invasive analytical techniques to answer questions such as: What happened to the drawings before conservation records began in the year 2000? What treatments had they had? How have they changed and what changes might they undergo in the future? Idelette concluded with the hope that the project would continue and inspire other institutions worldwide to examine drawings from their collections, share research methods and results, and to disseminate our finds to the greater public.

Highlights of the presentations that followed included; the use of Macro-XRF scanning to identify components of inks present in the drawings and infer how their appearance has changed over time, the study of historic storage conditions, past conservation treatments and their effects, and how technical imaging and interactive technology could be used to gain new insight into Rembrandt’s drawings.    

After a full programme of engrossing presentations, we made our way to the Rembrandt House Museum to visit the exhibition Rembrandt Laboratory: Rembrandt’s techniques Unravelled to discover how this fascinating research had been presented to the public in an accessible and engaging display.

delegates_examining_drawings_by_rembrandt.jpg Drawing Materials in the Age of Rembrandt workshop

The second day was devoted to workshops and discussion. I attended a practical workshop using 17thC drawing materials, one demonstrating high-resolution imaging in the Rijksmuseum’s photography studio and finally a look at various methods of imaging watermarks used by the museum’s conservation department. My only disappointment was that I was only able to attend 3 of the 11 workshops on offer, all of which were equally appealing.

The concluding presentation was given by the Head of the Print Room at the Rijksmuseum, Jane Turner. She reminded us not to forget that our heads, hearts, ears and eyes are still useful tools and that we must ask the right questions, think carefully about what we seek to know and that those questions should determine how we utilise the new technologies available.

This symposium was truly inspiring – it showed how fruitful a collaborative research project can be, and I am eager to discuss with my colleagues how we can take a closer look at drawings by Rembrandt in the British Museum’s collection.

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Lead Image: Public domain
Image 1 and 2 ©The Trustees of the British Museum

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