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On Rembrandt’s Visual Strategies: New Research 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 to 2016