Under the Magnifying Glass
In the 17th and early 18th centuries, artists working in the Low Contries (present-day Netherlands and Belgium) looked closely at every aspect of the world around them and also fashioned imagined worlds reaching back to ancient Greece and Rome. Not only did artists depict details made visible with the aid of a magnifying glass, but they applied this same scrutiny to broad views of the landscape and life within it. Three hundred years later, their rich and detailed images still have the power to captivate the eye. In the spirit of investigation, six graduate students in a seminar given by the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Brown University placed the 19 drawings in this gallery "under the magnifying glass." Supported by a grant to the RISD Museum from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Professor Jeffrey Muller, his Mellon intern Nancy Kay, and Mariana Aguirre, Bob Brooker, Anne Heath, Andrea Lepage, Hope Saska, and Tanya Sheehan used visual clues to verify or challenge existing scholarship. In cases where very little was previously known, they reconnected the drawings to their obscured origins. For four months, the team conducted extensive research at universities and museums in the United States and abroad. Comparing the RISD drawings to works of the same time period, region, or subject from other collections helped to place them within their historical context. Since many drawings from this period are unsigned or have been inscribed at a later date by someone other than the artist, careful examination of the drawing techniques helped to determine the proper attributions. In most cases, this was done by literally observing the lines of a drawing under a magnifying glass, noting their signature style, and then relating that style to works in other collections. An examination of the drawings on a light table, under the microscope, or with ultraviolet light revealed further information on the specific tools and materials used in their creation. Consultations with experts who visited the RISD Museum also were important for confirming specific findings and hypotheses. The team's research yielded exciting results that often significantly revised existing scholarship. Share in the investigation by picking up a magnifying glass and exploring tehse images with your own eyes.