In search of Rembrandt’s underdrawing

Activity: Talk or presentationLecture and oral contribution


Since the initiation of the Rembrandt Research Project in the late 1960’s technical study of Rembrandt’s paintings have gained increasing importance in understanding his working methods. Twenty years after the first National Gallery study in the series of Art in the Making was launched with a focus on Rembrandt and his paintings at the NG.
Examining the artist works with dendrochronology, x-radiography, and macro photography became the norm as well as complementing these results with x-sections of ground and paint layers as well as scientific analysis of binding media and pigments. Significant advances were made in understanding the materials and properties of the master’s use of and experiemtation with supports and mediums.

However, although some infrared-photographs were randomly executed the examination of the early Rembrandt paintings by means of infrared reflectography was not being employed until the astonishing 1998 discovery of an extensive underdrawing below the paint layers of - what was reckoned to be a cornerstone in Rembrandts early works - the Young Self-portrait from ca. 1629 in the Mauritshuis. This discovery prompted the author to undertake a limited survey into a selection of early paintings by Rembrandt and his close colleagues revealing a wealth of hitherto unrecorded information from below the visible pint layers of the paintings.

In this paper it shall be demonstrated how infrared-reflectography is an underestimated examination technique in the discovering of not only underdrawings, of which Rembrandt may have a few (?), but also how underpaintings and sketches can be visualized by this technique. Instigating a comprehensive search for Rembrandt’s underdrawing - in the widest sense of the word – of his early works may well be able to add significant information to the corpus of the artist and his contemporaries.
Period13 Nov 2014
Event titleRembrandt Now: Technical Practice, Conservation and Research
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map