CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

From Vulcan’s forge: bronzes from the Rijksmuseum, 1450-1800

Exhibition: 15 November - 16 December 2005


Netherlandish (Arent van Bolten?)
Imaginary animal, 1620
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum has examined 13 of the sculptures in its collection using neutron tomography, a technique that allows researchers to look at these bronze objects in a completely new way. Neutron tomography has never before been used for this purpose, making the Rijksmuseum the first museum in the world to transmit its 16th- and 17th-century sculptures with neutrons.

With the aid of neutron tomography, it is possible to explore the insides of the sculptures. By transmitting the sculptures with neutrons, this new technology yields completely transparent and clear images. What is more, the irradiation through 180 degrees means that specialised equipment can be used to show the sculptures in three dimensions and rotate them around their own axis whilst they remain completely transparent. Through further processing of the data from the neutron transmission, the data obtained can also be used to make short digital films, which most closely resemble brain scans.

As a consequence, the technique allows you to see infinitely more than, for example, the conventional x-ray technique that has been used to date. Iron fittings, little pins in the bronze, old repairs and the clay cores that are sometimes still present can be viewed independently of each other in different colours. And this provides yet more new information about the artist, the period in which the sculpture was made, modifications and additions carried out over the centuries, the materials used, etc.

In several cases, the new examination has shed an entirely new light on sculptures in the Rijksmuseum collection. For instance, it was thought that a work entitled Sol (the Sun) by the sculptor Van der Schardt (1530-1581) dating from c. 1570-1581 was a garden fountain sculpture. However, the sculpture proved to be lacking any kind of interior mechanism for pumping water upwards. And an examination also showed that the ‘Striding Nobleman’, which had always been attributed to Hendrick de Keyser, could not possibly have been one of his works because the sculpture has an internal structure that De Keyser never used in his bronzes.

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