As of April 2016 I work part time at the University of Amsterdam thanks to two research projects: Frans Hals /not Frans Hals, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and 21st Century Connoisseurship: Developing Smart Tools for the Analysis of Seventeenth-Century Paintings, funded by the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS) (see also ‘Research’). Besides, I hold the position of University Lecturer Early Modern Art and Theory at Leiden University (as of August 1st, 2020)
In 2009 I obtained a PhD degree at the University of Amsterdam (Art History of the Early Modern Era). Previously, I completed two MA-degrees (Art History and Cultural Studies, UofA, 1999), and studied in France (Sorbonne University, Paris), England (University of Sussex) and Italy (Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR); Dutch University Institute for Art History in Florence (NIKI).
Between 1997 and 2003 I worked consecutively at: the National Gallery of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1997), the Royal Palace (Amsterdam, 1997-1999), the Print Room at the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (UK, 1999-2000), the National Gallery of Art (2000-2003) and Stichting de Nieuwe Kerk (Amsterdam, 2003). From 2003 until 2008 I was Assistant Professor in training (AiO) at the UofA, and in 2006 and 2007 I also worked as a Lecturer at the International School (UofA). From 2008 until 2020, I worked as Curator of Old Master Paintings at the Frans Hals Museum (Haarlem).
The Riddle of Quality
Seeing is thinking. One of most interesting aspects of new insights in art history is that new questions and interpretations literally make us look differently. What we see depends on what we think and vice versa. Without knowledge there is no such thing as a ‘good eye’ for art. Putting this knowledge into words is, however, a continuous challenge. One question that has fascinated me throughout my career is how to define quality in seventeenth-century painting. It is a tantalizing question that is hard to tackle from an academic perspective, and yet it touches the raison d’être of much of the art we study. Seventeenth-century connoisseurs agreed that quality was more important than attaching names to pictures, and that one needed an eye for quality to distinguish different hands. But what exactly were these early connoisseurs looking for and looking at? And what words and categories of thinking did they use to describe and judge paintings? Were the issues that concerned them the same ones we consider important today?
Judging a picture was – and is – far from simple, no matter how swiftly the judgment is made. It involves myriad questions that touch on different academic disciplines. The insights of early connoisseurs give us some guidance (as well as a fascinating glimpse of the history of our profession), and so do recent insights into old master painting methods and techniques. Nevertheless, many questions concerning quality remain unanswered.
Humour and Perspective
My training in both Art History and Cultural Studies has given me a fondness for research topics on the crossroads of both fields. Even when studying a quintessential art historical task such as the attribution of paintings I always consider the broader cultural perspective. Such perspectives enhance our understanding of an “original” versus a “copy” at a time when painters regularly produced multiple versions of a single work. These considerations probe the paradoxical meaning of a work “by the master’s hand” when paintings were often produced with the help of assistants. They also clarify the meaning of style at a time when some artists intentionally varied their style depending on the subject matter of the work or its audience.
In the past few years I have looked into seventeenth-century paintings depicting festivities and have studied their relationships to actual Dutch celebrations. Working together with a team of scholars, I organized the exhibition and accompanying catalogue: Celebrating in the Golden Age (2011). My study of emotions in seventeenth-century Dutch painting and theory laid the ground for the 2014 exhibition on the topic held at the Frans Hals Museum. Furthermore I have iniated and completed the research project The Art of Laughter: Humour in the Golden Age in collaboration with Dr. Elmer Kolfin, Jasper Hillegers and Dr. Mariet Westermann, which resulted in a book and an exhibition (2017-2018).
The desire to capture quality or qualities in words and concepts, which has been at the core of much of my research, led to the publication of my book The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and his Contemporaries (Amsterdam University Press and Getty Publications Los Angeles 2011). This book combines an analysis of the insights of seventeenth-century artists and theorists with recent technical insights, as well as a broader cultural perspective. I will expand this interdisciplinary approach in a research project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO): Frans Hals / not Frans Hals. Defining the oeuvre of the Painter Frans Hals (1582/83-1666): a Pilot Study (2016-2018).
The project is a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam and the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the University of Amsterdam and the Technical University in Delft. The goal of the Frans Hals research project is to analyze the criteria that a number of prominent Hals scholars have used to determine whether a painting can be labelled an ‘authentic’ Hals or not. This study relates these criteria to the seventeenth-century context in which the paintings were made. Moreover, it features three case studies that assess whether these criteria can be replaced and/or expanded by using new technical research methods such as infrared reflectography ( IRR), hyperspectral imaging and MA-XRF analysis (see our articles in The Burlington Magazine, November & December 2019).
Currently, I am working with Prof. Dr Robert Erdmann on the research project 21st Century Connoisseurship: Developing Smart Tools for the Analysis of Seventeenth-Century Paintings (2018-2020), funded by the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS). The goal is to develop tools that will make large and complex data sets (including various types of high resolution photographs, infrared reflectograms (IRR), laser scans and macro X-ray fluorescence scans) much easier to read and therefore much easier to use for art experts as well as for a wider public.