Counting Vermeer


3.4 Properties of the canvas support

The most fundamental research into canvases as support for paintings was published by Van de Wetering in 1986.1 This research deals with a large number of paintings from many collections, but one artist, Rembrandt. It utilized the X-radiographs in the collection of the Rembrandt Research Project of 217 paintings on canvas, which were catalogued as autograph Rembrandt paintings by Bredius in 1935.2 The essay first discusses a variety of topics related to the production, the processing and the material history of the fabrics used by seventeenth-century painters. The following sections examine several different aspects and results of this research and subsequent research on canvases of other seventeenth-century painters, such as Frans Hals, Johannes Verspronck and Johannes Vermeer.

The first volume of A corpus of Rembrandt paintings is devoted to Rembrandt’s paintings from his early period in Leiden, which were almost exclusively painted on oak panels, except for a few copper supports. The study by biologists of traces of manufacturing of the panels and of the wood itself provided interesting new information on the original sizes of the paintings and also about the unexpected relationship of several oak wood paintings: the supports came from the same tree. It was not until 1631 that Rembrandt started to use canvas. The second volume of A corpus of Rembrandt paintings examines paintings from the period 1631-1634 and contains Van de Wetering’s analysis of the canvas support.


1 E. van de Wetering, ‘The canvas support’, in: J. Bruijn et al., A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, 6 vols., Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster 1982-2014, vol. 2 (1986), pp. 15-43; reprinted in: E. van de Wetering, Rembrandt. The Painter at Work, Amsterdam 1997, pp. 91-130.

2 A. Bredius, Rembrandt schilderijen, Utrecht 1935.

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