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News Student Blog: Mauritshuis Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings

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WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow ​Josh Summer performing a routine condition check on Jan Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Image courtesy the Mauritshuis.

Working at the Mauritshuis for the past nine months has been an excellent experience. The museum is situated in the center of the Netherlands' third largest city, The Hague, which is also the seat of the Dutch government, many foreign embassies, and the International Court of Justice. The museum boasts one of the world's finest collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Conceived in the late 18th century by Willem V, Prince of Oranje-Nassau (1748-1806), the collection of over 840 objects (which was is still growing today) is housed in the historic home of Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679).

Since beginning my internship, I've had the opportunity to prepare eight paintings by Jan van Ravesteyn (c. 1572-1657) for loan and complete an unfinished treatment on a painting by Jan Vermeer van Haarlem (1656 – 1705). I've been involved with research on Jan Steen (1626-1679) at the Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam and used a variety of imaging techniques, including macro-XRF scanning, to gain new insight on Rogier van der Weyden's Lamentation of Christ (c. 1460). My days are busy in the studio where I focus on documentation and treatment, art historical and scientific research, as well as regular condition checks in the galleries and depot. I have been lucky to travel as a courier throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. I have also been able to visit Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Spain, and England to expand my connoisseurship skills with the generous support of the American Friends of the Mauritshuis. 

​Josh Summer reducing one of the many surface coatings from Het Bruggetje with the aid of a stereo-microscope. Image courtesy the Mauritshuis.

My major project for the year has been the research and treatment of a mysterious landscape with a controversial attribution. The painting, known as Het bruggetje, or The Little Bridge, was purchased in 1892 by famed connoisseur and then director of the Mauritshuis, Abraham Bredius. At the time, it was believed to be the work of Salomon van Ruysdael. It bares a signature reading "S. Ruysda-" in the lower right corner, however this inscription has been questioned by leading experts over the past century. The painting is more likely by one of Ruysdael's contemporaries.

Early in my research, I found a drawing attributed to Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) in the collection of the Rijksmuseum. It matched the composition of Het bruggetje almost exactly. This connection seemed like a smoking gun - at first – but conservation has unearthed more questions. Before treatment, the painting was covered in at least seven layers of varnish and overpaint. One of these layers was completely irreversible with traditional cleaning methods. To reduce the coating, I used a combination of novel techniques I learned during my first two years in WUDPAC. Cleaning revealed a surface that was much brighter and colorful than what is often associated with Jan van Goyen's work. Many agree the painting looks more like the work of Pieter de Neyn (1597-1639), who studied with Van Goyen as a young artist in Leiden.

Scientific analysis at the Mauritshuis, Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam, and Winterthur Museum has yielded a wealth of information about the artist's materials and techniques. The authorship of Het bruggetje still remains suspect, although the attribution has been narrowed significantly. Nevertheless, the painting will soon be ready for exhibition for the first time in decades, suitable for visitors and researches to develop more accurate opinions on who painted this mysterious little scene.

With two months left before graduation, I'm very aware of how beneficial my time studying at the Mauritshuis has been. I've learned a massive amount in a great studio full of diverse and progressive ideas. My supervisors and mentors have made a deep impression on how I see and treat paintings. This newfound knowledge will remain with me throughout my career. 

—Josh Summer, WUDPAC Class of 2017

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Josh Summer shares projects from his third-year internship in the conservation labs of the Mauritshuis Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings.

​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Josh Summer shares projects from his third-year internship in the conservation labs of the Mauritshuis Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489