A blue or gold background? NICAS grant awarded for research on restoration
Should the background of the painting remain blue or be restored to its original gold colour? PhD candidate Liselore Tissen will be using 3D prints and eye-tracking software to answer this question. NICAS is giving her a grant of 18,000 euros to accomplish this.
The painting The Crucifixion’ of the Master of the Lamentation of Christ at Lindau was renovated in the Museum Catharijneconvent a few years ago. What should have been a routine job prior to an exhibition led to an unexpected discovery: under the blue background of the painting, an older, golden layer revealed itself. The work of art has since presented experts with a dilemma: should the sixteenth-century blue be removed to restore the fifteenth-century gold background, or should it stay in its current form?
‘I want to democratise this discussion,’ says Tissen. ‘Usually visitors only get to see the painting after it’s already been restored. But who decides on what a painting is going to look like for the next few decades anyway? I think it’s strange that only the restorer, together with a few others, gets to make these decisions. On top of that, if you involve people more in the restoration process, you can build a much better connection between the public and the collection.’
Tissen is planning to use the money from the grant to have 3D prints made of the painting. One will have the current blue background, the other the former golden one. The plan is to exhibit them around the year’s end at Catharijneconvent Museum and the Dom in Utrecht. ‘Thanks to these 3D prints, we can not only display the artwork in two different ways, but also display them in a church, where it originally belonged,’ explains Tissen. ‘In the version with the gold background, you can really see the blood of Christ spurting out of the wound. Because the paint used for the blood is matte, but the background is shiny, you get a contrasting effect. It’s fascinating to see the effects of it when you put the painting near candlelight.’
Eye-tracking and think aloud
With the help of eye-tracking and the think-aloud method, it is possible to find out how visitors perceive the art work and what exactly they think of it. ‘I’m especially curious to see if their idea of authenticity changes. Will they lean more towards the original context and colour, as shown in the 3D reproduction? Or will they gravitate towards the “real” copy that’s in the museum?’
If it turns out that visitors lean more towards the original painting, Tissen has some things she would like to know. ‘I want to find out what exactly people pay attention to when comparing the 3D print to the real work of art. This way we can find out what improvements need to be made in 3D printing in order to come across as even more convincing.’
Not a threat, but an opportunity
Whether that background should eventually be blue or gold does not really matter to Tissen. ‘I don’t think they’ll remove the blue. That would be irreversible, which goes against everything that restoration stands for. I do hope that this research is a first step of many in this direction. 3D prints are often considered a threat to art, but they’re much more than just copies. You can use them to present works of art in a variety of different ways and show that they have a whole range of values.’
Tissen gives a detailed explanation of her research
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