Abbie Carol Sarbina Aan Het Werk In Het Restauratieatelier Mauritshuis

Race Against Time

How are paintings conserved?

Narrated by

Abbie Vandivere (1)

Abbie Vandivere


Carol Pottasch, Restaurator Mauritshuis

Carol Pottasch

Conservator Mauritshuis

Sabrina Meloni, Restaurator Mauritshuis

Sabrina Meloni

Conservator Mauritshuis

The attic of the Mauritshuis is the home of our conservation department, where our conservators Carol Pottasch, Sabrina Meloni and Abbie Vandivere, spend every day examining and restoring our paintings.

But what is conservation and restoration actually? And why is it necessary? What secrets do conservators discover between the layers of paint? You are about to find out, as our conservators let you into the hidden world of art conservation.

A sneak peek in our conservation studio

All the paintings at the Mauritshuis are hundreds of years old, but they still look very good. How is that possible? We preserve them the best we can - the right temperature, humidity, sometimes behind protective glass - and do maintenance. The maintenance are carried out by our conservators.

Just as we change over time - we get wrinkles and grey hair and - the same thing happens with paintings. The colours fade or change, the paint cracks, and the canvas might tear. To keep them in the best condition as possible, we carry out conservation work on them.

A sneak peek in our conservation studio

The Conservation Quiz

Restauratie Tentoonstelling

Through the layers

Just as archaeologists find information about the history of the world in different layers of soil, the layers of a painting provide information about the history of painting. Using cameras, UV light and the latest technology, conservators go in search of a painting’s secrets.

Diana and her Nymphs

The sky behind the goddess Diana and her nymphs used to be blue with white clouds. After researching the paint used, it was discovered that the sky had not been painted by Johannes Vermeer at all. After a lot of thought, we decided to paint over the blue cloudy sky using the original greenish brown colour.

This makes the painting look completely different. The image is more intimate, and the light more believable. Or at least we think so. What do you think?

All audio clips

  • Carol Pottasch

    Conservator Mauritshuis

    Carol Pottasch, Restaurator Mauritshuis
0406 Before
0406 After

The red hat

The background in this painting had also been painted over. This often happened with old portraits, to cover up discoloration or damage. The type of paint tells us that the background was overpainted before 1750. What if it’s impossible to remove it?

Wonky William

This portrait of William of Orange was badly damaged in the past. We don’t exactly know how, possible by woodworm. Long before the painting came to the Mauritshuis, the part on the left had to be replaced. William was given a ‘new’ shoulder. Only it was too low. So how do you put that right?

Where is the soldier?

Where is the soldier?

All audio clips

  • Sabrina Meloni

    Conservator Mauritshuis

    Sabrina Meloni, Restaurator Mauritshuis

This is A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard by Pieter de Hooch, painted around 1658-1660. The version on the left is at the Mauritshuis, and the one on the right is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Pieter de Hooch painted this picture twice, but…. who on earth is that third person?!

At the moment we are doing conservation and restoration work on our version. And guess what we’ve discovered… there used to be a third person in our painting, too! He appeared when a part of the green fence was removed. Whether we leave him there or not will have a big effect on the painting. Without him, this is a nice family scene. If we leave him in the picture, it looks like there’s a drinking game going on. The men are challenging the woman to drink her beer to the next line on the glass (do you see?). If she doesn’t, she has to continue drinking to the one after that.

What do you think - should the man be left in the painting?

Hooch Vs Hooch

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