Painters in the Dutch Golden Age were masters in the rendering of materials and their various surface effects, a know-how that was pivotal for the art of still life painting in particular. In the 17th century, a treatise on the medium of oil paint was written by Willem Beurs that contains numerous specific recipes for the pictorial construction of objects with different surface textures. This project will study and test such recipes to gain a better understanding of how painters achieved their effects, and how they created patterns that somehow resonate with the patterns the human visual system uses to recognize, discriminate or perceive. The project will combine philological and technical/material research on the recipes in the treatise of Beurs and related recipes with scientific research that is concerned with the way pictorial stimuli may trigger particular perceptual experiences in human observers. By doing so, the project intends to draw a link between the recipes in the treatise of Beurs and the physiochemical and optical state of paintings created from these recipes as measured by a variety of modern scientific imaging techniques. In this way, it hopes to shed light on a ‘mystery of mastery’ encountered in Dutch Golden Age still lifes.
Detail of ‘Still life with flowers and fruit’ (c. 1721), Jan van Huysuym. Photo: Rijkmuseum