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BSL introduction to Close Examination

BSL: exhibition introduction
Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries
4 mins 36


This free exhibition is on display on level -2 of the Sainsbury Wing and is open daily from June the 30th to September the 12th 2010.

Some of the most remarkable stories in the National Gallery can’t be seen with the naked eye.

This exhibition highlights the analytical techniques that are used by National Gallery scientists, conservators and historians in order to learn more about the Collection and reveals some truly revelatory discoveries made behind the scenes.

In 1991, infra red photography was used to detect underdrawing beneath the surface of a small picture in a private collection, proving that a previously overlooked painting was in fact a lost original by Raphael. This picture, 'The Madonna of the Pinks', is now in the National Gallery’s Collection.

More recently, a small Dutch painting was the focus of investigation. 

The picture was one of the first to enter the National Gallery Collection in the early 19th century, when it was thought to be by Rembrandt. Over the years, scholars have expressed doubts about this attribution.

It shows the holy family, with the baby Christ at its centre, adored by a gathering of shepherds. The scene takes place indoors, in a shadowy barn interior, lit only by the warm yellowy light of two lanterns.

The painting was cleaned to remove layers of discoloured, murky varnish, and the materials and techniques of the picture were investigated. Where previously there were large areas of brown, for example in the rafters, it was now possible to see the colour and details more clearly, and reveal that the brushwork was quite different from paintings by Rembrandt.

It is now assumed that this ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ was made by an unknown student working in Rembrandt’s studio.

This is the first major exhibition to explore the full range of scientific discoveries made by a leading art gallery within its collection.

The exhibition focuses on the fascinating stories behind more than 40 works by artists including Raphael, Durer, Gossaert and Rembrandt.

The display is arranged across six rooms to explore the themes of:
Deception, Transformations, Mistakes, Secrets and Recovery.

There is also a room that focuses on Botticelli, where two works associated with this Renaissance master are hung side by side – inviting you to compare an original masterpiece and a deceptive imitation.

Access to the exhibition is by lift or stairs from entrance level 0. Entrance is free and there is no need to book. The display area consists of an entrance lobby, followed by six rooms which are followed in a clockwise direction.