About the exhibition
The Gallery’s painting Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple from after 1569.
We usually only see a painting’s “skin” – its uppermost layer. With the exhibition Illuminated – tracing Bosch & Bruegel you could delve down under the surface of four paintings, see how conservators work and travel back to the art studios of the 16th century.
Bosch, Bruegel, or?
Four 16th century Dutch paintings of the same subject have prompted us discuss the topic of “genuine” versus “fake” paintings. We do not know who painted the four panels. The materials and techniques employed point towards the two artists Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450-1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1527-1569), but at the time copying – of subjects and techniques alike – was widely practised. We cannot determine the true authors behind the paintings simply by looking at them, but the conservators can probe below the surface and help reveal the painting’s origins.
The exhibition took its point of departure in the conservators’ studies of the four paintings, which belong, respectively, to the Kadriorg Art Museum in Tallinn, the Glasgow Museums, the National Gallery of Denmark, and a private collector. The studies were conducted through collaboration between the three museums, the University of Glasgow, and CATS.
The four paintings show Christ driving the traders from the temple and represent four versions of the same subject. These are stories about morality, illustrated through enigmatic scenes in and around the temple, all playing on messages about religious conflicts and the contrasts between rich and poor, the learned and the ignorant. All of it set within a multi-ethnic society that almost seems to prefigure our own.
Secrets and stories
However, the true focus of the exhibition was to be found much deeper inside the paintings. This presentation was very much about the stories and secrets that emerge when art from the past is explored by means of contemporary scientific methods. We got the opportunity to gain insight into the artists’ working methods and intentions by examining the paintings with modern imaging technology so that we could see the various materials used, the underdrawings, and so on.
Follow the examination
The exhibition gave you the tools necessary to gain deeper insights into and appreciation of the paintings’ secrets and hidden layers. As you entered the exhibition you were lit up by UV light, which gave you firsthand experience of how the paintings were examined. In a replica set-up of the conservators’ workshop here at the Gallery you could get a sense of how the conservators work behind the scenes, and you had the opportunity to study objects under a microscope, to study pigments, and to explore the conservators’ world as such.
You could also explore the front and back of the Gallery’s own version of the painting, which was examined alongside the Glasgow, Tallinn, and privately owned paintings. The project website offers you the opportunity to juxtapose all four paintings in a virtual setting where the multitude of fascinating narratives can be explored in detail.
Six different touch screens allowed you to dig down through the paintings’ various layers, to illuminate the works, spot hidden details and follow the pigments’ journey.