Research

The Gemäldegalerie proudly looks back on a long tradition of academic research and technical analysis of its paintings. The encyclopaedic integrity and systematic structure of its collection provide a perfect foundation for scholarly inquiry. In recent decades, the Gemäldegalerie has striven to study its own holdings and present the findings of its research to an interested public in a series of critical catalogues. In addition to these collection-centric projects, the museum is also currently involved in several national and international collaborative research ventures.

Research projects at the Gemäldegalerie

The Gemäldegalerie presides over one of the most comprehensive collections of Rembrandt paintings in the world. Furthermore, since 1985 it has been the only museum able to apply systematically the technique of neutron-activation autoradiography (NIAR) in examining paintings, thanks to its long-standing partnership with the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin. As a result of this partnership, neutron-activation autoradiographs have been produced for the entire corpus of Rembrandt paintings held at the Gemäldegalerie. The aim of the research project is to conduct for the first time in-depth analysis on this set of unique images by comparing them with data from other forms of technological research, and to jointly assess the findings of both art historian and paintings conservator as to their art-historical and technical significance. At the heart of this project lies a wealth of new findings, which go above and beyond previous research, relating to the genesis of the paintings, the development of subjects and motifs, as well as Rembrandt’s artistic and painterly technique. The preconditions for these comprehensive new findings are intense interdisciplinary interaction and close cooperation between scholars from diverse fields of study.

All relevant information covered in the project will subsequently be made accessible to the public as part of the online Rembrandt Database. This information will include: data from the technical analysis of the paintings, the actual scans made using scientific imaging techniques (NIAR, X-radiography, infrared reflectography and microscopic imaging techniques), the accompanying explanations of the images, their art-historical interpretation, the historical records relating to the people and institutions responsible for commissioning and collecting the works, and all other related documents that have been gathered over the years.

The Rembrandt Database

The Rembrandt Database is a continually expanding database, which will continue to evolve in the long term and form the crucial starting point for any future Rembrandt research. The aim of the database is to provide new, online access to Rembrandt’s paintings, to combine expert findings and general information and open these up to an interested public around the globe. At the same time, existing documentation will be digitalized, placed in context and reviewed, and thus preserved for future generations. The documentation files will contain information on works either by Rembrandt or previously attributed to him. Numerous museums of international renown with important collections of Rembrandt works, scientific institutions and independent scholars are all involved in developing the database. Plans foresee a detailed collation of documentation on previous restoration and conservation treatments, technical data and scholarly and art-historical information on the individual paintings.

Principal organizers: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie in Den Haag / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie GmbH
Partners: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Doerner Institut, München; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Mauritshuis, Den Haag; Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden; Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden; National Gallery, London; Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich; Frick Collection, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Palais du Louvre, Paris; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht
Expected findings and goals: The examination of paintings by Rembrandt with particular attention paid to the neutron-activation autoradiograph images, the digitalization of visual material and important documents, the processing of all data in the Rembrandt Database.
Funding: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie GmbH
Project organizers:
Berlin: Prof. Dr. Bernd Lindemann, director, Gemäldegalerie; Dr. Babette Hartwieg, chief conservator, Gemäldegalerie; Dr. Andrea Denker, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie GmbH
The Hague: Rudi Ekkart, director, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie; Wietske Donkersloot, project manager, Rembrandt Database
Project team: Dr. Katja Kleinert, research associate, Gemäldegalerie; Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg, paintings conservator and expert in neutron-activation autoradiographs, Gemäldegalerie
Duration: 2011–2015

The 'Golden Panel' at the Landesmuseum Hannover is considered one of the most important works from the period of the International Gothic around 1400, and once served as the retable of the high altar in the church of the Benedictine abbey St. Michaelis zu Lüneburg. Starting in September 2012, a group of art historians, historians, conservators and scientists have been working closely together to research the altarpiece in greater detail.

The Staatliche Museen’s Gemäldegalerie is one of the many partners involved in this interdisciplinary research project. Our conservators Dr. Babette Hartwieg and Dr. Stephan Kemperdick are assisting the project with their expertise in art history and conservation. The goal of the four-year undertaking is to research the work thoroughly from both art historical and technical aspects. The VolkswagenStiftung has generously sponsored the project within the framework of its ‘Research in Museums’ programme with a contribution of €540,000. Other sponsors include the Klosterkammer Hannover.

Further details on the Golden Panel project are available from the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover website.

Partners: Niedersächsisches Landesmuseums Hannover; Gemäldegalerie at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Städel-Kooperationsprofessur, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, and HAWK Hildesheim
Contact person: Prof. Dr. Bernd Lindemann, director, Gemäldegalerie; Dr. Babette Hartwieg, chief conservator, Gemäldegalerie; Dr. Stephan Kemperdick, research associate, Gemäldegalerie
Funded by: Volkswagen Stiftung; Klosterkammer Hannover
Duration: 2012–2016

Thanks to a more than two-decade-long collaboration with the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, the Gemäldegalerie is the only museum in the world able to make consistent and systematic use of neutron-activation autoradiography (NIAR) and gamma-ray spectroscopy in the examination of paintings. Neutron-induced autoradiography is an exceptionally versatile and successful method to examine paintings in a nondestructive manner. It provides insight into the pigments used, the brushwork, the state of preservation of the various layers of paint, and the many stages that went into creating the work. In combination with other technical examination methods, NIAR presents us with a special opportunity to take a detailed look at a painter’s creative process. The long-term project between our two institutions aims to scientifically reassess paintings.

Partners: Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie GmbH Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
Contact person: Claudia Laurenze Landsberg, conservator, Gemäldegalerie; Christoph Schmidt, photographer, Gemäldegalerie

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