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Rare silverpoint drawings by Rembrandt in the focus of SR-XRF

Reiche, I.; Merchel, S.; Radtke, M.; Riesemeier, H.; Bevers, H.


The silverpoint drawing technique had its cumulating period in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However, some undoubtful Rembrandt drawings were made on prepared vellum by the master with this already obsolete technique in the Golden Age. Among these drawings is the best-known portrait of his wife Saskia, 1633 (KdZ1152, Berlin). It is, thus, especially interesting to investigate these drawings. In addition to art historical studies, it was also important to get new insights into the graphical material employed in order to know whether it was different from that one used in former periods, which in turn can give information on the genesis and dating of the drawings.
Silverpoint drawings belong to the most valuable treasures of graphical art collections. They are generally very precise drawings of excellent quality. Therefore, only completely non-destructive analytical methods are applicable. Moreover, they need to be very sensitive because of the low quantity of matter present in the strokes (less than some hundreds of μg/cm2). Several preliminary tests showed that only Particle induced X-ray Emission (PIXE) spectrometry and Synchrotron radiation induced X-ray fluorescence analysis (SR-XRF) fulfil the analytical requirements for the investigations of these drawings meaning that they are sensitive enough, feasible in air and require no sampling.
Synchrotron radiation induced X-ray fluorescence results obtained at the BAMline, BESSY II, HZB, Berlin on three Rembrandt silverpoint drawings of the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen zu Berlin will be presented (Reiche et al. 2006).
The chosen method will be explained as well as the requirements for studying non-destructively valuable works of art such as these silver point drawings. The main part of the presentation focusses on the meaning of the results and illustrates how SR-XRF analysis can reinforce art historical assumptions on the genesis, the dating of the drawings and their connection. Additional information can be gained from such analytical studies on the conservation state of the drawings.
The results will also be compared to those available on other silverpoint drawings by Van Eyck, Dürer and the Holbein family (Reiche and Roth, 2008, Ketelsen et al. 2005, Reiche et al. 2004).

References :

I. Reiche and M. Roth, Berliner Beiträge zur Acrhäometrie 21 (2008) 81.
I. Reiche et al., Appl Phys. A 83 (2006) 169.
T. Ketelsen et al., The Burlington Magazine CXLVII, #1224 (2005) 170.
I. Reiche et al., NIMB 226 (2004) 83.

Keywords: SR-XRF; X-Ray Fluorescence; synchrotron; archaeometry

  • Lecture (Conference)
    X-ray techniques in the investigations of the objects of cultural heritage: around Rembrandt and his workshop Research Conference, 13.-16.05.2010, Krakow, Poland