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Tuesday, May 30 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Paintings + Research & Technical Studies) Re-examining Old Findings and Inferences: The Study of a Magus at a Table by Jan Lievens

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Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn were born just over a year apart, studied with the same master in Amsterdam, and maintained a close artistic relationship in Leiden from 1625 to 1632. Due to the many parallels in their early artistic practices and subject matter, even contemporaries were sometimes uncertain about the attribution of their works. It is perhaps not surprising that the attribution of a Magus at a Table (Upton House, National Trust) has been elusive. Previous attributions included Lievens, Rembrandt, and 'after Lievens.' 

The painting is one of at least six versions of the same composition. In addition to the identity of the artist, the subject matter of painting is also unresolved. Perhaps the most inexplicable element of the picture is the extensive, tree-like foliage above the altar, in what would otherwise be an indoor scene. Despite the presence of pentimenti, the Upton picture was re-attributed to be a copy of a lost work by Lievens (c. 1631-2) after dendrochronology carried out in 1983 suggested a use date of ‘after 1660' (a date stylistically inconsistent with Rembrandt or Lievens). Recently, however, the accuracy of this dating has been questioned; it has been suggested that the painting could be an original work.

In this study, various findings and interpretations from 1983 were re-evaluated in light of recent technical scholarship and advances in analytical techniques. This includes a re-evaluation of dendrochronological data from 1983, with further analysis carried out in 2014 by Ian Tyers. Emerging analytical and imaging technologies like macro x-ray fluorescence scanning (MA-XRF) provided key new insights into the painting's materials, construction, and relationship to the other versions.

Technical examination shed light on the numerous stages of reworking in subject matter and composition. Crucially, MA-XRF (carried out by University of Antwerp) revealed important pentimenti painted in earth, black, and copper-containing pigments, which were previously invisible in x-radiography. This paper will also reflect on how incorrect data given by dendrochronology in 1983 was able to skew the interpretation of many other technical findings. Certain old assumptions and interpretations were thus challenged in light of the new results. Aspects of the painting technique that were previously assumed to be uncharacteristic of Lievens or Rembrandt have been re-assessed in the context of the significant body of technical and historical research published on the artists since the painting was last examined. These findings allowed the Upton picture to be re-attributed as an original painting by Lievens, rather than one of the many copies after a lost work.

avatar for Shan Kuang

Shan Kuang

Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Painting Conservation, Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
Shan Kuang completed her graduate training in the conservation of easel paintings at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge in 2015. She received her BSc in Chemistry from Yale University in 2011. She is currently the Samuel H. Kress Fellow at the Conservation Center... Read More →

Tuesday May 30, 2017 2:30pm - 3:00pm CDT
Regency C-D Ballroom Level, West Tower