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Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 1

Today's blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

A portrait (Fig. 1) hanging in the Clowes Library has charmed visitors for decades with its vivid lifelikeness. The energetic curls, the fleshy and youthful cheeks, the breath that hovers upon the parted lips all evoke the presence of a living man before our eyes. It has long been called an early self-portrait by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), which is substantiated by a monogram (Fig. 2) – “RHL”, for “Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden” – in the lower right corner. But scholars have cast doubts upon the identification of the sitter and the attribution to Rembrandt, calling it a workshop copy after an original by Rembrandt, a portrait of Rembrandt by a fellow painter, and even a self-portrait by one of Rembrandt’s students 30 years after his apprenticeship with the master. Factor in the existence of six painted variations of this work, and the possibilities are dizzying! How has the IMA determined that the Clowes painting is authentic?

Comparison with other paintings from the same period is the first step. Connoisseurs have observed similarities in physiognomy to other self-portraits from Rembrandt’s Leiden period (c. 1625-1631) in works found in Amsterdam, Munich, Boston, and Liverpool. Features like the bulbous nose, penetrating eyes, and slightly cleft chin point clearly to Rembrandt as the sitter.

In the early 1980s, IMA curator Anthony F. Janson saw a resemblance in execution between the Clowes panel and the self-portraits in Boston and Liverpool. He observed the use of scoring with the butt end of the paintbrush in the curls of the hair, the short hairs of the beard, and even in the lower lip to articulate volume and texture, a technique visible in the Amsterdam, Munich, and Boston self-portraits. Janson also drew comparisons between the flesh tones in the Boston painting and our panel, as well as in the execution of the scarf.

Figure 2: “RHL” monogram

Figure 2: “RHL” monogram

Further confirmation was offered by the leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst van de Wetering, in 2007. Having studied the monograms on Rembrandt’s early paintings, Van de Wetering observed that the monogram on the Clowes panel corresponds to those found on the artist’s works dating to a very short period, between late 1627 and 1629.

But is this enough information to say with confidence that our panel was executed by Rembrandt? Could it have been done by a very talented student, or perhaps a 19th-century copyist? Stay tuned for Part 2, in which scientific evidence is marshaled in support of the attribution to Rembrandt.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, History, Technology, The Collection


How hair helps conserve art

Today's blogger is Laura Mosteller, Conservation Technician II at the IMA.

As the conservation technician at the IMA, one of my responsibilities is keeping an eye on the devices that measure temperature and humidity in the galleries. Why? A major aspect of our mission at the museum and the field of conservation is to preserve artworks for generations, and often these artworks are composed of vulnerable materials. Changes in temperature and humidity can result in stresses of warping, dislocating joins, cracking and lifting of surface layers, breaking fibers, metals corrosion, and cockling of works on paper. Not to mention that mold will thrive at relative humidity levels of 70 percent or higher.

hygro_closedThere are many devices available that enable a real time recording of the gallery environment and we use a variety of these for recording comprehensive data history. What you may be surprised to learn is that one of the devices uses horse or human hair as a very important element for sensing humidity fluctuations. Called a hygrothermograph, it is one of the most common devices used to measure and record temperature and humidity. You’ve likely seen the contraption in many museums and wondered if it was a contemporary work of art.

hygro_openHumidity measuring devices have been around for hundreds of years; in the early days a material that was hygroscopic, or capable of absorbing moisture, was connected to the instrument to act as a humidity sensor.  The substance may have been twine or paper, and it would expand and contract when influenced by the varying levels of the moisture content in the air. These changes in the material could be quantitatively measured to interpret the relative humidity. In the late 1770s, Horace Benedict de Saussure is credited for implementing the sensible hygroscopic material of human hair in his design of the device. It is said that he used the locks of his lovely wife; perhaps the idea came to him after she complained of a bad hair day on a rainy afternoon. In today’s version, hair can be stripped of its oils and gathered in a small bundle providing the perfect humidity detector. So if you’re the type of person who enjoys unusual facts, this one is certain to impress your friends.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers, History, Technology


Ai Weiwei: Art, Activism, and Technology

On April 5, Ai Weiwei: According to What?—the IMA’s latest featured exhibition—opened to the public. A major retrospective of the artist’s work, this not-to-be-missed exhibition includes examples from the broad spectrum of the artist’s practice, which encompasses sculpture, photography, video, and site-specific architectural installations, as well as the design for the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Walking past some of the works in the show, visitors may be inspired to learn more about the man who created these pieces and the circumstances that drove him to do so. In conjunction with the exhibition, the IMA is employing new in-gallery technology to facilitate these inquiries and help audiences engage with the work of this extraordinary artist.


Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Exhibitions, New Media, Technology


A Brand New

Today, the IMA launches it’s first major refresh of its website since its initial launch in February 2010. The refreshed site includes an updated information architecture, a minimal, responsive design, and loads of new content.


The new

The redesign centers around a more structured hierarchy of information as well as a renewed simplicity around the site navigation and a refreshed appearance throughout. With mobile traffic on the rise, the responsive design makes the site accessible across a broad range of screen sizes and devices and provides a more seamless digital experience. Through the collaboration of the IMA’s digital production team, the site was built entirely in-house.

Though the refresh has been applied to most major sections of the site, some additional sections will continue to be updated over the next year, including areas devoted to the IMA’s collection and blog.

We’re excited to bring you expanded and more timely content on your favorite devices through our new website. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Filed under: Around the Web, Design, New Media, Public Programs, Technology


ArtBabble: Behind the Design

Last Tuesday, we launched a brand new website for ArtBabble.  Rita Troyer, Digital Graphic Designer in IMA Lab, discusses the design process:

The Brand

Since its launch in April 2009, ArtBabble has grown into something far greater than the original website it began as. It seemed only fitting to give the site and its visual identity a facelift given the ever growing nature of its content and partner reach.

In early July of this year, fellow IMA Lab designer, Matt Gipson and I set out to create several rebrand directions. After a few brainstorming sessions with take aways like “simpler,” “sleeker,” and “more vibrant,” the rebrand process was underway. We first nailed down our designs to two different directions and shortly thereafter, came up with our final approach.

Old logo on the left; Redesign on the right.

The new ArtBabble mark focuses on two things: streamlining and refining the brand, while maintaining elements of the original. ArtBabble’s purpose is to enable free flowing conversation, about art, for anyone. The new brand retains the play button, uses the eye catching Babble blue, and maintains the rounded typography, but with a matured feel. The color palette incorporates brighter, more vibrant colors, and with ArtBabble having just celebrated its third birthday, we felt that it was time to ditch the “Play Art Loud” tagline.

The Website

From the start of the website redesign process, the main goal was to come up with a design that had room to grow.  We wanted to plan for the site to evolve in the same capacity that it had over the past three years. Another goal was to design partner pages, artist pages, etc. so they could stand-alone. For some institutions, their ArtBabble Channel may be their main hub for video content. Therefore, their Partner Channel needed to work as a page that could be linked to directly as an outlet for their content. You’ll also notice that the redesign brings more of a visual presence to the videos and allows users to either dive into the material they are seeking, or browse casually. The new site structure brings ArtBabble’s amazing content to the forefront of a user’s experience.

Final homepage mockup

Mobile navigation mockup

Not only has the content of the site evolved over time, technology has evolved as well. The new, responsive design provides an optimal viewing experience for users no matter what device they’re on. Take a look here. Videos now play through players that are HTML5 compatible, making the video content accessible on desktops, tablets and mobile devices. The new ArtBabble is all about making content accessible wherever our audiences may be, on whatever device they may be using.

We couldn’t be more pleased with the way ArtBabble has grown since its launch in 2009.  We hope you enjoy the new logo and website redesign! Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Filed under: Design, New Media, Technology


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