This volume functions as the proceedings of the 1996 Harvard University symposium held in conjunction with the opening of the expanded Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, the reopening of Harvard’s Warburg Hall exhibition gallery, and the opening of the exhibition Investigating the Renaissance at the Fogg Art Museum. Published seven years after the symposium, the papers have been revised and updated to include the results of additional research. Two symposium papers, Lorne Campbell’s analysis of Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and His Wife, and Richard Newman’s study of Rogier van der Weyden’s St. Luke Drawing the Virgin, were published elsewhere. One paper not presented at the symposium, on the painting medium of the pre-Eyckian Antwerp-Baltimore quadriptych by Melanie Gifford, Susana Halpine, Suzanne Quillen Lomax, and Michael Schilling, is included here as a fortunate bonus for the reader.
Molly Faries opens the volume with a critical overview of recent developments in the examination of Early Netherlandish Paintings through the techniques of X-radiography, materials analysis, dendrochronolgy, infrared reflectography, and digital imaging. The paper is intended to serve as both an introduction to the technical study of paintings, and as a summary of the state-of-research in the field. Faries achieves both of these goals admirably, demonstrating throughout her essay a thorough understanding of each of these methods, as well as an impressive command of the related literature. The reader will appreciate in particular the author’s highlighting of potentially unfamiliar technical terms, definitions of which can be found in a glossary at the back of the volume.
Ron Spronk follows with an essay on the historiography of the field, focusing on the pioneering role played by the Fogg as the first museum in the United States to establish, under the leadership of Edward W. Forbes in 1928, a department for conservation research and technical studies. Noting the significant contributions made by Forbes, X-radiographer Alan Burroughs, conservator George Stout, and chemist John Gettens, Spronk summarizes the “Fogg Method” of hands-on training which led to the publication, in 1932, of Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, the first quarterly journal dedicated to the subject.
Three papers, by Dutch physicist J.R.J van Asperen de Boer, University of Hamburg professor Peter Klein, and Straus Center director Henry Lie, discuss in detail the history, methodology, and recent technical advances in the analytical techniques of infrared reflectography, dendrochronology, and digital imaging, respectively. While the information conveyed by these authors is essential for the specialist’s thorough understanding of the field, the highly technical nature of these papers may make their accessibility rather challenging for the uninitiated reader.
As case studies for the application of the various technical methods discussed, three papers in the volume are devoted to the analysis of specific Netherlandish paintings. Teri Hensick reports on the conservation history, treatment, and technical examination of the Fogg’s version of Jan van Eyck’s lost Woman at Her Toilet, identifying it as a sixteenth-century copy, painted sometime after 1511. Gianfranco Pacobene and Ron Spronk provide a step by step summary of the technical examination and recent conservation treatment of the Fogg’s Virgin and Child from the workshop of Dirk Bouts, linking its composition convincingly to Bouts’s Virgin and Child in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt. Melanie Gifford, Susana Halpine, Suzanne Quillen Lomax, and Michael Schilling report on their microscopic, chromatographic, and microchemical analysis of the pigment, medium, and painting technique in panels from the so-called Antwerp-Baltimore quadriptych, identifying the primary medium as linseed oil throughout.
Finally, in the role of ‘respondent,’ Maryan Ainsworth ties the various symposium topics together in a paper devoted to the question of attribution in Early Netherlandish paintings. Ainsworth notes the crucial role that technical analysis has played in the evolution of modern connoisseurship since the early, pioneering efforts of James Weale and Max J. Friedländer. Through several well-known examples, Ainsworth reminds the reader that convincing attributions can only be realized through the cross-disciplinary collaboration of art historians, conservators, and research scientists.
Although some of the papers may be too technical in language or tone for the general reader, this volume has tremendous reference value for the specialist or initiated amateur, and would be a highly desirable acquisition for any research library. The illustrated glossary and extensive bibliography are invaluable tools for the specialist, scholar, and student alike. By providing a thorough and detailed analysis of the ‘state of the field,’ Faries and Spronk have succeeded well in achieving their intended goal.
Nancy E. Zinn
The Walters Art Museum