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X-ray's from works in the collection

An X-ray is an important tool for learning more about a work of art. X-rays are electromagnetic radiation captured in the form of a negative photographic image. They allow us to look beneath the visible surface of a painting.

X-rays provide information

An X-ray image provides information about the painter’s technique and working methods. How was the artwork composed? Where has the artist changed the initial composition? Has another artist made later changes? X-rays also provide information about the condition of an artwork, enabling us to identify old restorations, paint loss and later additions.

Rontgenbeeld van Zelfportret van Fabritius
Carel Fabritius, Zelfportret, circa 1645

The X-ray of the famous Self-Portrait by Carel Fabritius (1205 (OK)) shows how the artist first portrayed himself with a white collar before opting for the open shirt that we see now. 

Rontgenbeeld Tobit en Anna
Rembrandt, Tobit en Anna

Rembrandt appears to have painted Tobit and Anna (VDV 65) over a still life. These underlying motifs are invisible to the naked eye.

Rontgenbeeld Sint Hieronymus
Sint Hieronymus

Anthony van Dyck (VDV 22) initially used the canvas on which he painted his magnificent Saint Jerome for a painting of a naked reclining nymph. He rotated the canvas from landscape to portrait format before beginning his depiction of the saint. The nymph’s arm is clearly visible on the X-ray. 

Hieronymus Bosch’s famous Pedlar (1079 (OK)) has small white circles on both sides of the central seam. They are the filled-in holes for the dowels that once attached the panel to a frame. They present a strong argument for believing that this painting was once the reverse of the side panels of a triptych.

All X-ray images digitised

X-ray photography is also used in the museum world to help date artworks or to determine the construction of three-dimensional objects. For example, it can show whether the nails in a piece of furniture are old or new, and it can reveal the internal structure of a sculpture or a globe.

Historically, the X-ray team at Boijmans Van Beuningen has mostly made X-rays of paintings and of a few sculptures. All the existing X-rays measure 40 x 50 cm. If a painting is smaller than these dimensions, the entire work can be seen in the image. But many works are larger than this format and therefore require several X-rays to document the entire work. Digitised images of the X-rays can then be ‘stitched’ together, aligning their edges precisely to create a continuous complete image without the annoying overlap of the separate photos.

In 2020, financial support from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds enabled the museum to digitise and stitch together its collection of nearly 1300 X-rays of 237 objects. Because the quality of the physical X-rays deteriorates over time, digitisation is essential for the long-term management and preservation of this valuable source of information. It also makes it easier to view and share the images.