Technical Art History


Technical art history is concerned with artworks as physical objects. It studies artistic practice in all its facets and constructs the object’s material biography, from artistic idea to the object’s present state.


Technical art history is a strand within art history that focuses on object-based research, combining traditional art historical enquiry with insights from science and technology. An in-depth understanding of techniques, production processes and uses of materials by artists and artisans may help to answer existing art historical questions in more comprehensive ways and open up new lines of enquiry. Important subjects for investigation are the role of art technological knowledge transfer through treatises and other written instructions, as well as building skill and exchange of embodied knowledge in the artist’s and artisan’s workshop; the interaction between artistic ideas, technical innovations and stylistic developments; and the mobility of makers, techniques and materials.

The Girl in the spotlight

Composite image made from technical images of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665, Mauritshuis). Credit: Sylvain Fleur + the Girl in the Spotlight team.