Session 3: Furniture and works of art


Dating Northern-Netherlands cabinets from the late 17th century

Paul van Duin1, Iskander Breebaart1, Marta Domínguez-Delmás1, 2, 3

1 Conservation and Science Department, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 2 Institute of Art History, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 3 DendroResearch, Wageningen, the Netherlands.

Over the last 30 years, a great number of pieces of furniture from the Rijksmuseum collection (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) have been dated by dendrochronology. Furniture from the Northern Netherlands was seldom dated by the maker, and never signed, and few documents have survived that could indicate who made it and when. A very popular type of cabinet around the 1700s was a cabinet on a stand, with large flat surfaces decorated with marquetry with flowers and/or geometrical patterns. An ongoing project aims to identify groups of cabinets that were produced by a same maker, based on similarities in the construction and decorative features, and on dendrochronological dates and groupings of the oak (Quercus sp.) components.

Here, we will present the process followed to date the cabinets, from the selection of components to be analysed to the interpretation of the dendrochronological results. A selection of 15 pieces includes the first cabinet ever dated by dendrochronology in the Rijksmuseum, the dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman, as well as furniture by Jan van Mekeren with intricate marquetry depicting large bouquets of flowers. Dating furniture differs from dating panel paintings or sculptures, as a cabinet on average consists of 50 to 100 wooden components. In many of those components the end grain is not accessible, or partial dismantling is needed to access it, hence conscious choices must be made. The dates and provenance of the wood have been compared to previously existing art-historical dates, to assess the added value of dendrochronological dating and the contribution of this science to understanding developments in cabinetmaking.


Musical string instruments: Tree-ring dating and provenancing to verify their authenticity

Paolo Cherubini1, 2, Bruce Carlson3, Wolfgang Talirz4, Malcolm H. Wiener5

1 Dendrosciences, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland. 2 Department of Forest and Nature Conservation, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada. 3 Luthier, via Amilcare Ponchielli 11, Acquanegra Cremonese (Cremona), Italy. 4 Musician, violist, Berliner Philharmoniker, Berlin, Germany. 5 Institute for Aegean Prehistory, Greenwich, CT, United States of America.

The prime factor which affects the market value of a work of art is its authenticity. String instruments are among the most valued works of art, particularly those made by the old violinmaking masters of northern Italy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Their authenticity is difficult to be verified on the basis of style and design alone, as these were often copied or forged. The only analysis that can objectively indicate, if not the exact year an instrument was made, at least the date before which it certainly was not made is a dendrochronological analysis of the wood used to make the instrument. We will review the dendrochronological studies done to assess the authenticity of the instruments made by the old Italian masters, bringing the example of the controversial dating of the famous violin

"The Messiah" attributed to Antonio Stradivari. Such studies help to establish the earliest date the tree from which the wood was taken could have been felled, and to determine the source region of the wood. We will present the main achievements and challenges that have arisen in the past 50 years, and discuss the limitations and potential of using dendrochronological methods to establish the provenance and time period in which an instrument was made. Finally, we will describe needs of research in history, wood anatomy, biochemistry and dendrochronology, proposing some new methods that may open up new avenues of research and aid in the assessment of the authenticity of old string instruments.


Old doors deserve attention of dendrochronologists: first examples from Estonia

Alar Läänelaid1, Aoife Daly2, Kristina Sohar1

1 Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia. 2 SAXO-Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

During recent years five old doors have been brought to focus of attention in Estonia. The earliest of them appeared to be the door of the King’s Chapel in Tallinn Dome. The door consists of vertical pine planks covered with horizontal oak planking that were both dated. Some details indicate that the door was manufactured for a smaller doorway and the oak boards were added later.

The door from a mediaeval town prison locates in the Bremen Tower of the town wall of Tallinn. This is an oak door of three vertical planks, armoured by iron hinges. The date of the door, 1392 tpq, specifies the written, known building period of the Bremen Tower.

The decorated door from a chapel of von Maydell’s family at Velise manor has an obscure history. The pine door with coats of arms of two nobility families was dated to 1524 tpq, while the chapel was erected in the 1880s. Presumably the door was brought to the chapel from Tallinn (Reval). Origin of the pair of doors could be explained by investigating the real estate of these families in mediaeval Reval.

In a flat in Tallinn Old Town there are two inner doors with historical appearance. These are board doors with door leafs in the frame. One of these doors, dated 1523 tpq, distinguishes by its special hinges that were in fashion in the 17th century. The other door is under examination yet. There are several details giving hints on their age.


Japanese art through time: a dendrochronological investigation into cultural progression through Netsuke

Antoinette Marie Piotrowska Lawrence-Cooper1

1 Geography, Student, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

In this research project, I will be using principles of dendrochronology and macroscopic analysis to study the wood anatomy of Japanese Netsuke (small wooden sculpture) in possession of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Upon uncovering the tree species, I attempt to locate the spatial (regional) origin of the artefact. Subsequently, I aim to connect the period of its creation and material with relevant historical and cultural developments in Japan. This research project aims to explore the extent to which interconnectivity between nature and cultural progression can be analysed non-invasively. During the Tokugawa period (1603–1868), netsuke were an indispensable item of dress, therefore, many species of wood from a range of climates were desired for their aesthetic value. Furthermore, cultural development was at an all-time high, with the rise of woodblock printing. As a result, this project investigates an item worn by all classes of citizens and how cultural development can be traced. The technique used to analyse the wood was macroscopic analysis based on Crivellaro & Ruffinatto (2019). Wood species was identified by locating the cross-section, and coding anatomical features such as vessel & parenchyma cell arrangements then cross-referencing them against the International Association of Wood Anatomists (IAWA) database. It must be noted that this research project is currently ongoing and will be completed by the first week of April.


The journey of nudsugana. Archaeobotanical study of the wooden sculptures from Gunayala (Panama) located at the Världskulturmuseet in Göterborg (Sweden)

Nuria Romero Vidal1

1 History Department, Faculty of Geography and History, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.


The nudsugana are subjectivized sculptures with their own life and agency which are carved by the Gunadule communities to embody the properties of the trees. Gunadule people carve them into anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms, humanizing them without changing their nature. Large number of them have travelled across the Atlantic Ocean since the 19th century and they have ended up in the European ethnographic collections. The Världskulturmuseet has the largest number of these carvings, which have not been studied yet. Within the PhD thesis From tree to object, which aims to integrate archaeobotany and anthropology besides state-of-the-art digital tools in the study of wooden objects produced by the Gunadule people, these pieces will be studied to explore all the possibilities offered by the archaeometric analysis of these objects. As each nudsugana is named after the tree from which it was carved, we have already a list of 20 different taxa that are part of a catalogue in which we are including uses, properties, ecology data and anatomical features with the main aim of developing a multidisciplinary methodology to improve the anatomical study in tropical woods. We present the multidisciplinary methodology-wood analysis, SEM with EDX, Py-GC-MS, FTIR, μCT- that is intended to be carried out on this study and the first advances of the thesis project by inquiring what nudsugana can tell us about the people, forests, and trees where they come from and also, helping them to start their journey back home.


Looking into Rijksmuseum’s maritime collection: provenance and function of 18th and 19th century half hull models

Tirza Mol1, Paul van Duin2, Jeroen ter Brugge3, Davina Kuh Jakobi4, Marta Domínguez-Delmás5

1 Shipmodel and furniture conservator at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 2 Head of furniture conservation at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 3 Curator of maritime collections at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 4 Conservator, Whaley Historic House Museum, USA. 5 Research Associate Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The maritime collection of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) contains around 1800 navy related models, including circa 300 half hull ship models. A half model is a scale model from the starboard or portside half of a ship hull, mounted on a wooden backboard. It is constructed in wood, polychromed and finished with a transparent varnish. Sometimes a label is attached to the backboard, with information on the scale, name or provenance of the model. In the 18th and 19th centuries half models were produced on ship wharfs all over the Netherlands.

Despite the great number of half models in the Rijksmuseum collection, little is known about their production and function. Many models are not attributed to a specific dockyard, are not associated with actual ships, and have therefore been assigned broad production date ranges. This paper describes how systematic technical research can contribute to the knowledge about the provenance of the half models and their possible role in the Dutch maritime shipbuilding industry.

A reconstruction of a half model was made to understand the construction sequence. Visual inspection and tool traces recording were used to study the construction process, and dendrochronological research was used to date the models and establish their potential production shipyard. By clustering the models according to stylistic features, materials and tool traces, as well as dendrochronological data, we have been able to attribute groups of them to specific shipyards and to connect some of them to actual ships. This paper shares the preliminary results of this fascinating research.


Three altarpieces attributed to the Borman dynasty studied by dendrochronology

Pascale Fraiture1, Christophe Maggi1, Lisa Shindo1, 2

1 Laboratories department (Dendrochronology Lab), Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Brussels, Belgium. 2 ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, Institute of Pre- and Early Prehistoric Archaeology, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany.

Since 2010, the Dendrochronological Laboratory of the KIK-IRPA have had the opportunity to study three sculpted altarpieces attributed to the Borman dynasty.

The first was the Altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin of the church of the Assumption in Errenteria (ES), analyzed during its conservation-restoration treatment by Albayalde S.L. (Donostia-San Sebastián). It is dated by a painted inscription 1528. The second is the Saint Denis Altarpiece of the Collegial church of St-Denis in Liège (BE), attributed around 1520-1530, which was the object of an interdisciplinary study and conservation-restoration treatment at the KIK-IRPA in 2012-2014. The third is the Saint George Altarpiece now conserved at the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels (BE), which contains a sculpted date 1493, also analyzed in the frame of its study and treatment at the KIK-IRPA between 2018 and 2021.

For all of them, the dendrochronological analysis during a conservation-restoration treatment allowed the study of sculpted elements as well as elements from boxes and architectural decoration. Next to tree-ring dating issues, this presentation would enlighten the supplying conditions for wood, that is, the geographical provenance of the oak and the quality selection of the trees used for the different parts of the altarpieces, as well as the woodworking techniques and the know-how of the craftsmen who produced these works. Comparisons of the observations done on the three ensembles, which have different genesis and materiel history, will also be discussed, as they reveal important differences even though they come from the same workshop.


Unravelling a North Netherlandish 17th-century panel maker

Jørgen Wadum1, 2, Marta Domínguez-Delmás3, Angela Jager4

1 Nivaagaard Collection, Nivå, Denmark. 2 Wadum Art Technological Studies (WATS), Vanlose, Denmark. 3 Institute of Art History, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 4 RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague, the Netherlands.

The marking and branding of oak painting supports is a well-known practice in Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries. Conversely, information about the activities and regulations of 17th-century panel makers in the Northern Netherlands is scant and has hitherto never been thoroughly researched.

This paper presents a panel maker who sold his products to painters within the Dutch Republic. He stamped his house mark in the back of the panels: two letters ‘M’ above each other and crowned by the cipher ‘4’. This mark has been found in panels from several painters active between 1632 and 1648.

To narrow down the location of the unknown panel maker’s workshop, we investigated his source of timber and the eventual interrelationships between the planks used for the panels. In addition, we studied the painters who painted on his supports. This paper, for the first time, presents a thorough dendrochronological and art historical examination of eight of his 15 known panels combined with art historical research into the works of his customers and the commissioners of those works. Based on the Baltic provenance of the wood of the panels, the painters who used them, the people portraited, and the supply of timber to the Dutch Republic in the first half of the 17th century, we propose that the location of the panel maker’s activities points to a workshop in Rotterdam.

This first interdisciplinary attempt to unravel an unknown Dutch panel maker and his practice increases our understanding of panel maker’s practices in the 17th century. Further research into Dutch frame and panel makers and their regulations and practices is urgently needed to comprehend the complexity of the huge art market of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.


Mummy labels: a witness to the use and processing of wood in Roman Egypt

François Blondel1

1 Institute from environmental sciences (ISE), University of Geneva, Switserland.

Mummy labels are relics that are found in large quantities in Egypt, often in a very good state of preservation (like most wood preserved in arid environments). As a result, they are widespread in Roman Egyptian collections in many museums. Mummy labels reflect funerary practices that were both Egyptian and Roman in influence and as such represent an important source of evidence.

These corpuses of mummy labels offer many possibilities. The one concerning their inscription has already been the subject of an international project (Death on the Nile) during which all accessible objects were recorded in a database. Yet, the potential of this funerary items needs to be extended to include the methods of manufacture, the choice of species used, and their potential use in dendrochronology so as to better define their chronological potential and possibly attribution.

The study of these labels is part of a multidisciplinary SNSF project, led by Prof. S. R. Huebner, at the Universities of Basel and Geneva, which aims to characterise the interaction between climatic changes, environmental stress and societal transformations in the Roman Empire during the 3rd century AD. These mummy labels are perfect witnesses, both for reflecting on the modes of manufacture and uses of wood, on the provenance of the selected species, whether local or imported, and on their dendrochronological potential.


Thinking inside the box. A dendrochronological and archaeobotanical survey on a 14th century chest made in Antwerp

Kristof Haneca1, Koen Deforce2, 3, Luc Allemeersch4

1 Flanders Heritage Agency, Brussels, Belgium. 2 Ghent University, Archaeology department, Gent, Belgium. 3 Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, OD Earth and History of Life, Brussels, Belgium. 4 GATE archaeology, Aalter, Belgium.

A heavy and impressive chest – part of the museum collection of the city of Antwerp – is believed to have served as the container to hold and protect the cities privileges, liberties and other important historical documents. However, so far little material-technical research and historical research has been undertaken, and it remained unclear how old this chest actually is.

A recent dendrochronological survey revealed that the chest was mainly constructed with wide Silver fir planks (Abies alba), although the bottom was made of oak. The tree-ring pattern of the lid of the chest was dated to 1005 - 1294 CE, suggesting a felling date early in the 14th century. The wood originates from the Vosges mountains in France, and hence was transported towards the city of Antwerp that already in the 13th century developed as an important trade centre along the river Scheldt. The tree-ring pattern of the bottom plank could not be measured, but the presence of caulking material in some large cracks and metal clamps (sintels) revealed that this repurposed timber must originate from a medieval ship. The archaeobotanical and palynological examination of the caulking material (mosses) points towards two different locations where the ship was repaired, with at least one location outside the Low Countries.

During the examination, a collection of wooden boxes inside the chest drew the attention. It was unclear whether they had any connection to the chests’ original content. Tree-ring dating on these wooden boxes made of oak and beech revealed their 14th to 16th century age. Furthermore, inscription proved their relation with the historical documents stored inside the chest.

The combined dendrochronological, archaeobotanical and historical examination now demonstrates that this medieval chest was a privileged witness of the city's turbulent history.


Wooden artefacts from the castellum Velsen I, the Netherlands

Silke Lange1

1 BIAX Consult, Biological Archaeology & Environmental Reconstruction, Zaandam, the Netherlands.

During the excavations of the Roman fort Velsen in the 70s and 80s of the last century, a large amount of find material came to light. The fort which was located about 20 km northwest of Amsterdam, dates back to the Augustan/Tiberian period. Thanks to the waterlogged conditions, organic material was well preserved. Commissioned by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the analysis of the wooden finds was carried out only recently and led to some amazing revelations. For example, the find assemblage includes kitchen utensils, writing tablets, tent pegs, footwear and furniture parts, but also a Centurion staff and a fragment of a pan flute were recognized. The study of the wooden objects has provided insight into the use of wood and woodworking, as well as an insight into the distribution of standardised and commissioned utensils throughout the Roman Empire.


Dendro4Art. The repository for dendrochronological research data on early modern paintings and sculpture

Sytske Weidema1, Angela Jager1, Suzanne Laemers1

1 RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague, the Netherlands.

Dendro4Art is an online repository for dendrochronological research data related to art objects, in particular early modern panel paintings. It is a unique database in the sense that it interlinks a large dendrochronological dataset with a vast amount of art historical and technical research data.

Dendro4Art is a joined initiative by CATS (Centre for Art Technological Studies and Conservation), Copenhagen and RKD, and has been made possible thanks to a generous grant provided by The Carlsberg Foundation. In Dendro4Art dendrochronologists share and use research and art historical data. Each record contains a number of basic data, such as wood type, youngest annual ring(s), number of annual rings, possible felling date and terminus post quem. Records also list if wood from the same tree was used in other artworks. If possible, raw and processed data, such as reports, are presented.

In combination with RKD’s database Marks on Art, containing data on marks, such as hall marks, panel makers’ marks and merchant marks on panel paintings or sculpture, scholars will be able to investigate complex questions, regarding the attribution and dating of the object, timber trade or wood supply.

Dendro4Art is a sustainable and ever growing database. RKD is reaching out to dendrochronologists and researchers in related fields to collaborate with us, in order to collect, store and share data. The aim of this poster presentation is to inform the scholarly community about Dendro4Art’s opportunities, to invite dendrochronologists to share their data and to receive feedback for future developments of the repository.