Tracing Bruegel. Een interdisciplinaire benadering van Pieter Bruegel de Oudere's tekenkunst en de productie en editiegeschiedenis van zijn prenten
The importance of the study of technique, materiality and working methods in art historical research has become fully acknowledged in the last decades. New technical developments offer new possibilities for scholars today. The FINGERPRINT project is developing new tools to assess graphic media and is testing its efforts on the casus of the graphic work (prints and drawings) of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
FINGERPRINT is an interdisciplinary project, involving art history, art technical research, digital imaging, image processing, conservation science, collection- and data management. The aim is to monitor and evaluate through advanced digital imaging, statistical processing and laboratory analyses the various types of drawings attributed to him, and especially the phases of the genesis of a print, from the unique preparatory drawings over proof impressions to later states and editions. Until today art historical research on prints and drawings depends for the largest part on traditional art historical methods based on observation with the naked eye and on the memory and knowledge of connoisseurs. The aim of this project is to develop tools to automatically perform an objective artefact analysis, and software to visualize, compare and order large numbers of complex visual and material data.
The proposed PhD is an integral part of this interdisciplinary research and focusses directly on the graphic techniques and working methods of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the edition history of his prints. A better understanding of these aspects of his work from an interdisciplinary point of view with the involvement of modern technical research will have a major impact on our art historical understanding of his oeuvre.
Modern scholarship on draughtsmanship and printmaking - in this case focusing on Bruegel and his circle - emphasizes topics such as the technical aspects of graphic production, nature and development of the techniques and used materials, distribution networks, consumption patterns and commercial aspects of print production and consumption, collection history and the material history and condition of the surviving objects. For all these aspects evidence can be found within the surviving objects themselves by means of the proposed techniques and tools, and by classifying and comparing the large datasets gathered in this way.
One of the art historical questions of this research project will focus on the role of preparatory drawings in the production of the printing plate or matrix. Most preparatory drawings are executed with great care and detail and show the composition in reverse. In raking light blind indentations, which are the result of tracing over the contours of the designs with a stylus in order to transfer the outlines of the composition on the plate, can be discerned. It is not known how this transfer technique worked exactly and whether different engravers applied different methods in transferring and interpreting the drawings. One of the aims of the imaging tools we want to develop is to map precisely the indented contours and to compare them with the resulting prints. Up to now there has been no method to visualize and measure the tracing patterns. Some tests executed in preparation of this project have provided us with promising results in visualizing the indentation pattern. The two preparatory drawings in the KBR Print Room offer a very interesting case to develop and test this tool because they were interpreted by two different engravers with a diverging view on translating Bruegel’s designs. It has been assumed that Bruegel might have taken into account the skills of the engraver for which his design was intended. The technique of Bruegel’s preparatory drawings and the used transfer techniques can also be compared to his free drawings and print studies and the graphic work by contemporaries as Maarten van Heemskerck and Hans Bol, which are also kept in the Print Room. The techniques and use of preparatory drawings has never been studied in depth and we expect that the newly developed tools and imaging techniques will offer us more insight into the working methods of Bruegel and engravers and artists from his circle.
An adventitious important question concerns the printing materials and applied techniques, and their influence on the wear and tear of the matrix. It is known that the inking and cleaning of the plate caused wear to the incised grooves in the plate resulting in less strong, increasingly dull and grey impressions. It is also known that the used intaglio technique or style, the quality of the metal of the matrix and the quality of the ink had an influence on the degree of wear. The new imaging techniques and the software for data management can provide us more detailed technical and visual data that will enable us to compare prints resulting from the matrix in its different stages of wear. This can provide more reliable information on the production history of prints, especially of prints who exist in only one or two states and where there are no historic data on their production history. Watermark research and paper identification can supplement the data and provide a more solid basis for specific dating of historic impressions.
In short, the traditional art historical research and connoisseurship combined with the recent developments in imaging technology will provide us with new insights into the oeuvre and working methods of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his contemporaries; from the drawing board to the collectors album.