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Foreword - Counting on the RKD

Chris Stolwijk and Sytske Weidema

A sunny spring afternoon more than ten years ago. On the initiative of C. Richard Johnson, Jr., the Geoffrey S. M. Hedrick Senior Professor of Engineering at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), the Research Department of the Van Gogh Museum starts a series of workshops on the analysis of brushstrokes. A group of art historians, conservators and computer scientists explores the possibilities of the application of computational techniques and methodologies to address current issues in art history. These workshops and the many discussions between the colleagues participating led to the foundation of the Thread Count Automation Project (TCAP) in late 2007. Eventually, TCAP focused on the works of Vincent van Gogh, but from the very start also opened its activities towards Old Master painting, including projects on and works by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Since, the automated thread counting from X-radiographs of paintings on canvas has proven to be a highly innovative development. It provides not only masses of (forensic) data, but especially has changed the time-consuming, traditional (and manual) methodology of thread counting used by conservators for many decades. TCAP has opened new research fields and research questions such as artists’ practices, the authenticity of paintings and the production of canvas and canvas rolls of which little was known before 2007.

From the very start of TCAP the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History was involved in the project, mainly through the Rembrandt Database and colleagues working on the RKD’s collection of technical documentation, created during technical studies and the restoration of artworks. Another result of the involvement of the RKD is this publication,
Counting Vermeer, which Arthur Wheelock in his introductory essay describes as a result of ‘a new type of scientific examination of paintings: computer-generated “weave maps”.’ These maps are generated on the basis of the above-mentioned innovative development of automated thread counting from X-radiographs of paintings on canvas. They provide a wealth of new information ‘about threads and weave patterns with such precision that scholars can compare the character of the canvas supports of different paintings.’

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