CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

New analysis of paintings by Rembrandt in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Katja Kleinert and Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg

New analysis of paintings by Rembrandt in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin based on neutron autoradiographic, technological and art historical investigations

The Berlin Gemäldegalerie’s important collection of paintings by Rembrandt has recently become the subject of a new research project. Its aim is to examine the genesis and the special characteristics of the painting techniques used in the master’s workshop, in both a natural-scientific and an art historical context.

Thanks to collaboration with the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin, since 1985 the Gemäldegalerie has systematically used neutron autoradiography to gain better insight into its works of art. This method makes visible the configuration and structure of several paint layers at the same time. Along with the more usual methods of examination, the photo-technical evaluation of autoradiographs provides additional data, which can contain crucial information about the genesis of a picture’s painting technique.

Although the Gemäldegalerie Berlin has had this significant material available for a long time, no systematic interdisciplinary evaluation of the autoradiographs has yet been completed or published. For the first time, both restorers and art historians will evaluate the radiographic images of Rembrandt’s paintings.


1. Is it still worth evaluating paintings without knowledge of their technical investigation?

2. Apart from greater knowledge, what benefits can be gained from collaboration between restorers and art historians and what conditions are necessary for successful communication and research? What made this exchange so difficult previously?

3. How desirable are the (still rare) publications that are mutually researched and written by art historians and conservators?

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, ca. 1659-60, Gemäldegalerie Berlin SMB


Final autoradiograph showing the distribution of phosphorus in bone black. In his first sketch Rembrandt positioned the angel’s hand at the level of Jacob’s shoulder; by subsequently moving it up he transformed the struggle into an embrace.

About Katja Kleinert

Katja Kleinert completed her studies in art history and Dutch philology in 1999. Her doctoral thesis examined the working methods, equipment and practices of 17th-century Dutch painting workshops. She began working for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in 2005, and co-curated the exhibition Rembrandt. Genie auf der Suche (2006, Berlin-Amsterdam) and the international symposium Rembrandt: Wissenschaft auf der Suche (2006, Berlin). She was subsequently employed at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin and is one of the few art historians with a knowledge of neutron autoradiography. Together with restorers from the Gemäldegalerie, she made the initial evaluations of the neutron autoradiographs of the museum’s 17th-century Dutch paintings. From 2007 to 2010 she was a member of the DFG- Netzwerk “Ad fontes. Neue Forschungen zu Bildkonzepten des holländischen 17. Jahrhunderts.” Since October 2011 she has been involved with the “Rembrandt Autoradiography” research project together with Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg, the results of which will be made accessible to the broader public in a digitized format within the context of the Rembrandt Database.

About Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg

Before Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg trained in the conservation of paintings and sculptures under the supervision of Thomas Brachert, she studied biology and chemistry in Berlin. Funded by a scholarship from the Stiftung Volkswagenwerk, she subsequently worked for two years in the Rathgenforschungslabor of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, where she was trained in archaometry. In 1981 she began working as a painting conservator for the Gemäldegalerie Berlin. Since 1984 she has conducted the neutron autoradiography examinations of the Gemäldegalerie’s paintings in collaboration with experts at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin. She has been responsible for making the neutron autoradiographs and the gamma spectroscopic imaging. Under her supervision, the technique has undergone continuous development and refinement and she is now one of the few specialists in this field. She has authored numerous publications on the evaluation of neutron autoradiographs. Together with Katja Kleinert, she is currently working on the “Rembrandt Autoradiography” research project, the results of which will be made accessible in digitized format within the context of the Rembrandt Database.