Maryan Ainsworth Donates Archive to the RKD

Maryan Ainsworth, curator of Northern Renaissance paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has handed her research using infrared reflectography (IRR) to the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague. The archive was transported from New York to The Hague in February.

Dr. Maryan W. Ainsworth, member of CODART since 1998, took her doctorate at Yale University on Bernard van Orley, after which she started a career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is currently responsible for Early Netherlandish, French and German painting. Ainsworth developed a specialty in technical research; curatorial projects led to her conducting research using scientific equipment into the underdrawings of many paintings in the United States and elsewhere.

IRR, a method regularly used by Ainsworth, is a technique developed in the 1960s by Prof. J.R.J. van Asperen de Boer. IRR uses infrared light to penetrate paint layers which are opaque in normal light to make visible any underdrawing – the first sketch or drawing made on the panel or canvas by the artist. Since an IRR camera can only capture a small part of the paint surface, multiple images are made which are then joined together to create a complete image of the underdrawing. The mosaic of these images was created in the early days using photographic prints, but over time the IRR process has been gradually digitised. Maryan Ainsworth played an important role in this development.

Maryan Ainsworth and her archive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Maryan Ainsworth and her archive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ainsworth’s archive comprises the results of forty years of technical art historical research into hundreds of paintings from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It contains a particularly rich collection of IRR information (analogue and digital), files of transparencies, photographs and other research data. The archive took up a whole office in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because of her leading role as technical art historian, Ainsworth’s research data is well known, and it is of tremendous value for researchers.

The RKD is the only place in the world that holds a comparable and important collection of IRR information. It holds the IRR archives of both Van Asperen de Boer and Prof. Molly Faries, another pioneer of infrared reflectography. The collection has been enriched with the results of IRR research undertaken by Margreet Wolters, the RKD’s curator for Technical Documentation. Maryan Ainsworth’s archive is therefore a wonderful addition to the RKD’s collections.

The RKD plans to make the information available (online) as quickly as possible, providing researchers with a unique and precious collection.