Revealed: this is what this 15th-century painting looked like before it was painted over

Left: the current state of The Crucifixion (around 1425). Right: the digital rec
Left: the current state of The Crucifixion (around 1425). Right: the digital reconstruction, made by the Lindau-project.

Frequin was one of three speakers on the Paleissymposium

Assistant Professor Sanne Frequin was one of the three speakers at the Paleissymposium, with King Willem-Alexander as host. Frequin spoke about her Lindau project, in which she and her team digitally restored the painting The crucifixion (around 1425) and made a 3D print of the work. The 3D reconstruction was revealed for the first time during the symposium.

Debate on restoration of paintings

"The painting that’s on display today differs significantly from the version that was witnessed by the 15th century visitors", Frequin said during her presentation, that is linked at the bottom of this page. The paintings show a crucified Christ, Mary, and John against a blue background. During the preparation of the painting for an exhibit in Museum Catharijneconvent, it was discovered that the painting originally had a golden background.

"This discovery sparked a debate on the rightful part of restoration. Is removing the blue layer an act of revealing historical accuracy? Or should it be preserved as part of the panel’s storied past?"

Digital reconstruction and 3D print

To reveal the original golden background without making irreversible changes to the work, the team decided to work with 3D reconstructions. "Our journey starts with a 3D scan of the panel", Frequin explained. A 3D model was made based on these scans, in which they could work on digitally revealing the golden background. "The ultimate stage involved transitioning the digital model into the physical realm, and today I present you the results of this transition."

During the symposium was the first time these reconstructions were revealed to the public, but also to Frequin herself. "It is fantastic", she reacted in the radio show Spraakmakers. "Unimaginable. I think that there are very few people who would notice that this is not an actual painting if it were to hang in a museum." Two facsimiles (replicas) were made: one that resembles the current version with the blue background and another with the original golden background. "These facsimiles are a fusion of technological innovation and high-quality craftsmanship."

Paleissymposium

The  Paleissymposium  (Palace Symposium) is organised twice per year by the Amsterdam Royal Palace Foundation. During the most recent edition, Frequin and two other scholars presented their research on the topic of ’Alpha and Beta in the Arts’. King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima and Princess Beatrix were among the guests attending, as well as more than 120 international experts.

Experiments with facsimiles

"With facsimiles we can experiment without endangering the original", Frequin said during her presentation. One of those experiments is placing candles around the reconstruction, to see how different sources of light impact the way we view the painting. The use of eye tracking systems is also in the works, with which the team will research if the colour of the background has any influence onto where your eye gets pulled.

Interdisciplinary art historical research

"Many people from different disciplines worked together to make this project happen", Frequin said. Conservators, art historians, engineers, and technicians, among others, worked closely together within the project to ensure the best possible quality of the reconstructions. "Together with this interdisciplinary group, we have ensured that the facsimiles stand as some of the finest achievements within our capabilities."