CSI Rem­brandt: Sleuths re­veal mu­seum paint­ing is in­deed by Rem­brandt

The China Post - - ARTS - BY MIKE CORDER

Af­ter a CSI-style in­ves­ti­ga­tion and restora­tion span­ning eight years, the Mauritshuis mu­seum in The Hague has de­clared that one of its star paint­ings re­ally is by Dutch mas­ter Rem­brandt van Rijn.

The an­nounce­ment should end years of is- it- or- isn’t- it de­bate about whether “Saul and David” was a real Rem­brandt.

Re­searchers used ad­vanced X-ray tech­niques to peer through sev­eral coats of paint that had been ap­plied dur­ing pre­vi­ous restora­tions and es­tab­lish that the orig­i­nal pig­ments were the same as those Rem­brandt used in the 17th cen­tury. Paint sampling showed that the primer used was typ­i­cal of Rem­brandt’s stu­dio in the 1650s and 1660s.

For decades, there was no ques­tion. A for­mer direc­tor of the mu­seum in The Hague, Abra­ham Bredius, bought the paint­ing more than a cen­tury ago, but in the late 1960s Rem­brandt ex­pert Horst Ger­son cast doubt on who ac­tu­ally painted the Bi­b­li­cal scene of King Saul us­ing a cur­tain to dab a tear from his eye while David, kneel­ing be­low the king, plucks the strings of a harp.

Re­storer Carol Pot­tasch said it was no sur­prise that Ger­son ques­tioned who painted the oilon-can­vas work, be­cause pre­vi­ous restora­tions had added so much paint.

“I guess that was the big­gest prob­lem that he faced. He couldn’t see a paint­ing by Rem­brandt be­cause there was no paint­ing to see,” she said Tues­day. “And now we’ve taken off all th­ese lay­ers now you can ac­tu­ally see the orig­i­nal paint again and then there’s no doubt.”

Now newly re- at­trib­uted to Rem­brandt, the painstak­ingly re­stored can­vas is the cen­ter­piece of an ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing Thurs­day and run­ning through Sept. 13 that goes into foren­sic de­tail on how the mu­seum un­rav­eled the mys­tery of who painted “Saul and David.”

Part of the team that con­firmed the at­tri­bu­tion was renowned Rem­brandt ex­pert Ernst van de We­ter­ing.

Like many crime-scene in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the Mauritshuis probe had to deal with a “vic­tim” that had suf­fered much abuse. Cut up, painted over and faded over time, “Saul and David” even had part of an­other paint­ing stuck into its top right-hand cor­ner.

“Be­fore the paint­ing was treated, be­fore it was cleaned, it be­came clear that the paint­ing had been over­painted a num­ber of times, that the paint­ing had dis­col­ored, that its orig­i­nal di­men­sions had been changed in the past,” said Joris Dik of Delft Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity, whose high­tech scans helped es­tab­lish the paint­ing’s au­then­tic­ity and guide re­stor­ers. “It’s been re­ally treated bru­tally, this paint­ing, in mul­ti­ple past restora­tion cam­paigns.”

Em­i­lie Gor­denker, the direc­tor of Mauritshuis, said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion turned up plenty of sur­prises. Peer­ing through the paint, ex­perts saw a can­vas that al­most re­sem­bled a jig­saw puz­zle.

“The anal­y­sis helped us to de­ter­mine that the paint­ing is in fact made up of 15 dif­fer­ent pieces of can­vas; three main parts — the Saul, the David, and an in­sert of a copy of an old paint­ing in the up­per right cor­ner plus strips all around the edges. So it’s a real patch­work,” she said.

It re­mains un­clear why paint­ing was carved up in past.

One re­sult is that the paint­ing now hang­ing in pride of place in the Mauritshuis ex­hi­bi­tion — “Rem­brandt? The case of Saul and David” — is smaller than Rem­brandt’s orig­i­nal.

But, in keep­ing with the high­tech na­ture of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the mu­seum also com­mis­sioned a 3D printed ver­sion of the paint­ing in its orig­i­nal size that vis­i­tors can touch to get a true feel for the Dutch mas­ter’s brush strokes.

Direc­tor Gor­denker said the mu­seum did not set out to prove that the paint­ing was in­deed a Rem­brandt.

“In fact, we only came to the con­clu­sion about a month ago,” Gor­denker said. “We would have been happy to do this show and come to the con­clu­sion it wasn’t (a Rem­brandt).” the the

AP

This photo pro­vided Tues­day, June 9, by Mauritshuis shows Rem­brandt’s “Saul and David” af­ter restoro­ra­tion.

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