Lecture: Netherlandish Painting: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an art history class. The professor has been discussing early Netherlandish painting. Professor: So you all should have finished today's reading assignment about early netherlandish art work and its analysis. So we're talking about paintings from artists who lived in what is now Belgium and the Netherlands, paintings done in the 15th and 16th centuries. Well, let's say what's your job to analyze these paintings, um, identify the artist, the time period, the methods used and you were working before the 20th century. How would you do this? Female Student: Well, you could rely on visual analysis, right? And information from written sources from the time. Professor: But that wouldn't work so well if you're talking about early Netherlandish painting, right? Male Student: Right, because they were usually signed. And like I said in the reading, there are hardly any sources on the methods Netherlandish painters used. Professor: Precisely. So in the past, we can really only speculate to answer these questions about these 15th and 16th century paintings, piece together rare written sources, look for similarities and style, which, as you know, is problematic. Female Student: Because a lot of people learned by copying others. Right? Professor: Yep. So it's very likely artists might have been copying painters they were studying under or even artists from before their time. And ... well, let's say you've got two paintings that look identical. How do you tell which is the original and which is the copy? Well, nowadays we're fortunate to have access to certain technical developments that really shed light on these questions. One place we can look for answers now is in the base for the painting. Netherlandish masters usually painted on a wood panel. And thankfully they used oak, a wood that easily analyzed through a method called dendrochronology, which means tree-chronology. Dendrochronology help us to gather information about the dated painting was executed because it tells us when the tree was cut down. So you probably know about growth rings. How if you take a cross section of a tree trunk, you can see a pattern of rings. As an oak tree grows, it forms a particularly distinctive pattern of growth rings. By analyzing these rings, we can establish the approximate date when a tree was cut down. Female Student: Yeah, but what if the woods sat unused for a while? Like, if it was reused? If the artist painted over a different older painting? Professor: Excellent points. We'll talk about techniques to answer those questions in a minute. But well, yes, dendrochronology isn't going to tell the whole story. It's really most useful in ruling out an artist as ... as being behind a particular painting. So art historians have been debating whether a painting was done by the painter Jan Van Eyck, for instance. If they know the panel came from a tree cut down after the Knight's death, it couldn't have been done by him. Okay. Another way to establish whether painting was an original or a copy is by looking at the under drawing. Most netherlandish artists prepared a draft drawing on paper, and then poked small holes with a needle along the lines in this drawing, this sort of outline the drawing with these needle holes. Then they attach this paper drawing to their panel, took coal powder, and patted it through the holes in the drawing. So they had a thin trace of the same drawing on the panel, and then they could paint over it. But the under drawing as well under the painting, right, which makes it hard to see. Male Student: Yeah, but I've read about ways we can see under the paint now. Um ... Professor: Yes. I think you're talking about infrared reflectography or I-R-R. With infrared reflectography, it's actually possible to see through layers of paint. You see red light has a longer wavelength than the white light that we've normally seen. And this longer wavelength allows it to penetrate layers of paint. With I-R-R we use infrared light to capture an image of the coal in the under drawing, and then to project this image onto a computer screen. So back to those two copies of the painting. Well, if you use I-R-R to look at the under drawing, and if there are some big discrepancies between the under drawing on the actual painting in one, but in other the under drawing and painting match, well? Female Student: The one with the discrepancies would be the original. Professor: Right. Because the artist would make adjustments while completing the painting. The master painter wouldn't be trying for an exact copy.