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News Student Blog: Rijksmuseum

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​ WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Gerrit Albertson performs cleaning tests on the De Bray painting under the stereomicroscope​.

​​​​​​I had been working at the Rijksmuseum for two weeks, but the reality of it all was still sinking in. The Rijksmuseum, the state museum of the Netherlands in Amsterdam, is home to masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as other seventeenth century Dutch masters like Frans Hals, Gerard Ter Borch, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Steen, and more. I have admired paintings by these artists ever since I was an undergraduate art history major, and I fine-tuned my understanding of them in UD professor Perry Chapman's seminar last spring. Not long ago, the possibility of working in paintings conservation at the Rijksmuseum seemed unattainable, and after two weeks, it still felt a bit unreal. That is until one evening.

As I was finishing work, I went to return a painting to its drawer for the night. When I opened the drawer, I noticed someone had placed another painting inside while I was working. As I began to close the drawer, I realized that I recognized the painting lying quietly inside. I had seen it many times before, in fact. It was Jan Vermeer's The Little Street. At that moment, it became clear – and suddenly very real – that I would be spending the next year surrounded by some of the greatest masterworks of the Dutch Golden Age.

My major project this year focuses on a painting by Haarlem painter Jan de Bray (1627–1697) that depicts the Biblical story of Judith slaying Holofernes. I have spent many hours examining and documenting this small, oil on oak panel painting from 1659, interpreting x-radiographs, infrared reflectographs, and elemental distribution maps from the macro-X-Ray Fluorescence spectroscopy (MA-XRF) scanner – all in order to understand how this particular painting was made and how it has aged. I have made comparative studies with other works by De Bray, and in the coming months I will visit the York Art Gallery in England and a private collection in Pennsylvania to see two paintings that many art historians believe were part of a series of Biblical heroines by De Bray.

​ The panel painting of Judith and Holofernes from 1659 by the Haarlem artist Jan de Bray. 

Although there are significant issues affecting its appearance, in general, the painting is in good condition. There are some small paint losses scattered across the composition, as well as some abrasion likely caused by harsh cleaning in the past. Much of the artist's lively brushwork and modelling of light and shadow is obscured and disfigured by a thick layer of discolored natural resin varnish, and the slow degradation of various pigments have altered the painting's original tonality. Past restorers, witnessing some of these damages, attempted to conceal them with retouching that is now discolored, and in certain cases, obscures original paint. WUDPAC professors Joyce Hill Stoner, Richard Wolbers, and Matt Cushman prepared me to think critically about how to safely and effectively restore an artist's intentions, and my Rijksmuseum supervisors, Paintings Conservator Anna Krekeler and Head of Paintings Conservation Petria Noble, have provided me with invaluable advice and guidance in forming a treatment plan. I have started to remove the varnish along one edge of the painting, and already the exposed colors are much more vibrant than before. What once appeared as a dull, brownish red blanket covering Holofernes' body is now revealed as a dazzling mix of vermilion, pinks, and purples.

By working on Jan De Bray's Judith and Holofernes I am learning about the materials and techniques of old master paintings, how they deteriorate, and what treatment options are available to restore these works. At the Rijksmuseum, I have a unique and rare opportunity to gain intimate knowledge about Dutch art and experience the inner-workings of a world class art museum—something I will benefit from for years to come as a paintings conservator.


- Gerrit Albertson, WUDPAC Class of 2017

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Gerrit Albertson provide a glimpse into his first few weeks as a graduate intern in the paintings conservation laboratory at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Gerrit Albertson provide a glimpse into his first few weeks as a graduate intern in the paintings conservation laboratory at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.​​

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