In search of Rembrandt's underdrawing

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Since the initiation of the Rembrandt Research Project in the late 1960s, technical study of Rembrandt’s paintings has gained increasing importance in the understanding of his working methods. Examining the artist’s works with dendrochronology, X-radiography and macro photography became the norm complemented by cross-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 experimentation with supports and mediums. However, although some infrared
photographs were taken, examination of early Rembrandt paintings using infrared reflectography (IRR) was not employed until the astonishing 1998 discovery of an extensive underdrawing below the paint layers of the painting once considered to be a cornerstone of Rembrandt’s early works: the Young Self-Portrait with a Gorget from c.1629 in the Mauritshuis (The Hague). This discovery prompted the author to undertake a limited survey into a selection of early paintings by Rembrandt and his close circle that revealed a wealth of hitherto unrecorded information acquired from beneath the visible paint layers of the paintings. This paper demonstrates the relevance of the IRR technique in the discovery not only of underdrawings but also how underpaintings and sketches can be visualised. Instigating a comprehensive search for Rembrandt’s underdrawing – in the widest sense of the word – in his early works may add
significant new information to the corpus of the artist and his contemporaries.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRembrandt Now : Technical Practice, Conservation and Research
EditorsMarika Spring, Ashok Roy
Number of pages14
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherArchetype Publications Ltd. London
Publication date21 Mar 2022
Commissioning bodyThe National Gallery (NG)
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

To coincide with the exhibition Rembrandt: The Late Works (15 October 2014–18 January 2015) at the National Gallery in London (and co-organised with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), a three-day scholarly conference was held entitled Rembrandt Now: Technical Practice,Conservation and Research (13–15 November 2014). The focus was on Rembrandt’s technical practice for painting. Many of the papers presented at the conference are included in this free-to-view online publication produced by Archetype Publications Ltd for the National Gallery. It is only produced as an online publication. No hard copies will be published.


  • underdrawing
  • painting technique
  • Rembrandt

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