This exhibition explores the vital contributions of applied science to the understanding of Old Master paintings in the National Gallery. A world leader in its field, the Gallery employs advanced techniques in scientific examination, conservation and art historical research to investigate a painting’s physical properties.
The exhibition will showcase some of the most intriguing stories behind paintings in the Gallery, as it explores the ways in which advances in scholarship and technology can reveal the misconceptions of the past.
Uncovering the past
Working together, Gallery experts can uncover the true origins of works with disputed authorship or authenticity, ranging from workshop collaborations and straightforward period copies to modern forgeries.
Sometimes scientific investigation has uncovered fakes. A painting acquired as a 15th-century work in 1923 was proven to be a 20th-century forgery after scientific analysis of the materials used.
Occasionally science also betrays the errors of past research. At the time of its purchase in 1845, A Man with a Skull was attributed to Hans Holbein. A recent analysis of the painting’s wooden panel support has shown that the work actually postdates the artist’s death.
Ongoing advances in scientific technology open the way for new discoveries. The exhibition additionally highlights the often surprising results of cleaning and conservation, and presents a number of tantalising unsolved conundrums.
EPSRC supports scientific research at the National Gallery
Image above: Detail from Master of the Mornauer Portrait, Portrait of Alexander Mornauer, about 1464-88