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Research Project


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Let the Material Talk

Technology of Old Cologne painting from the Master of St Veronica
to Stefan Lochner (1380–1450)

To explore the materials and techniques of late-medieval painting in Cologne: this is the aim of a joint project involving the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich, and the latter’s affiliate, the Doerner Institut.
Since March 2009, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, a group of art technologists, natural scientists and art historians have been investigating the important collections of late-medieval Cologne painting held by the two institutions.

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Research Project

Materialforschung Projekt Info_en

Research Projekt
"Let the Material Talk –
Technology of Old Cologne painting from the Master of St Veronica
to Stefan Lochner (1380–1450)”

The theme of the project is a comprehensive technological investigation of a selection of paintings and groups of works dating from the end of the 14th to the middle of the 15th century, including outstanding works by the Master of St Veronica, the Master of the Holy Kinship the Elder, the Master of the Kirchsahr Altar, the Master of St Lawrence, and Stefan Lochner. The selection comprises, alongside completely preserved triptychs in working order, so to speak, also works in a fragmentary state of preservation as well as paintings whose original contexts (for example as painted cupboard doors or chest lids) reflect the variety of functions fulfilled by late-medieval images, which are in turn reflected in the choice of materials and techniques which these functions demanded.

The processes and techniques of execution raise immediate questions relating on the one hand to workshop organization, co-operation and succession, as well as the chronology of the painters working at this period (some of whom are stylistically closely related), and on the other to currents of tradition and a developmental history of technological characteristics, going beyond the boundaries of Cologne itself, which can be derived from these trends. The project thus has as its aim not only as precise a knowledge as possible of the material characteristics and history of each individual work, but also seeks, on the basis of the investigations, to reflect on the chronology and the functional significance of technological factors, and thus to expand the foundation for the assessment, attribution and understanding of late-medieval painting. The investigation of the selected works is being carried out using the latest methods, including, alongside stereo-microscopy, various forms of radiation, including infra-red reflectography (Osiris camera), and (stereo-) radiography. The identification of the paints used is being undertaken at the Doerner Institut using methods including gas chromatography / mass spectrometry, Fourier transform infra-red microscopy and scanning electron microscopy / energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis. Additional investigations into the type, age and origin of the wooden picture supports are being carried out by Prof. Peter Klein (Hamburg).

The HIDA-Midas database is being used to document the results in combination with a set of rules specially developed to deal with art-technological findings.


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International Symposium
"Let the Material Talk –
Technology of Late Medieval Cologne Painting in Context"

24 to 26 November 2011
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

The international symposium was successfully held with the total of some 270 participants from Germany, Holland, Belgium, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain and the United States. There were 19 papers read; the speakers and the audience from the fields of art technology, conservation, the natural sciences, and art history reflected the interdisciplinary theme of the event. With the contributions the current state of research into the technology of Old Cologne painting (1380–1450) could be presented and discussed in the context of related art genres and nearby regions.

A total of 17 contributions of the symposium will be published shortly in English and German in the “Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung”, issue 1/2012. The journal is available directly at the Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft or at the Siegl´s Fachbuchhandlung.




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Title picture: [Detail], Master of St Veronica, Madonna with the Sweet-pea Blossom, c. 1415, WRM 10.Stereo-microscopic examination.Infrared-reflectographic examination using the OSIRIS camera.Cologne Master, 1456, Arrival of St Ursula in Rome, WRM 717: Visible in the infrared reflectogram (below) is an underdrawing with black brush-strokes.Cologne, Christ on the Cross between the Virgin Mary and St John, c. 1425, WRM 57:   The fastening of the sculpted head in the panel picture is only visible in the X-ray photograph.Microscopic photograph, Cologne artist, Christ on the Cross between the Virgin Mary and St John, c. 1425, WRM 57: Russet underdrawing line of the hand of St John between adjacent areas of differing pigmentation (scale = 1 mm).[Detail], Master of the Kirchsahr Altar, Crucifixion Retable, c. 1425/30, WRM 55: Punched border beneath Christ’s right arm.[Detail], Master of the Kirchsahr Altar,  Crucifixion Retable, c. 1425/30, WRM 55: Cast appliqué brocade with delineation of the pattern and leaf outlines from the undergarment of St Catherine.[Detail], Master of the Holy Kinship the Elder, Holy Kinship Altar, c. 1415/20, WRM 59:  Relief halo in raking light.Cologne, Angel of the Annunciation, c. 1425, WRM 47: When stimulated by UV radiation, the retouched areas (left) appear dark.


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Abteilung Kunsttechnologie und Restaurierung
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

Obenmarspforten (am Kölner Rathaus)
D - 50667 Köln
Tel.:  +49 221 221 223 78
Fax.: +49 221 221 252 56


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