Facelifts & Make-overs

7 October 2021 - 9 January 2022

Tentoonstelling Facelifts Makeovers Beeld Uitsnede

How is it possible that centuries-old paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Rubens still look so good today? This is partly thanks to conservators, who ensure that paintings are preserved in the best possible way.

The exhibition Facelifts & Make-overs shines a light on what usually remains out of sight, namely the conservation of paintings. What is conservation? Why is it necessary? And what secrets do conservators uncover above and below the layers of paint? Welcome to the hidden world of conservation!

Our conservators

The Mauritshuis’ conservation studio is located in the attic. This is the domain of our conservators Carol, Sabrina and Abbie. Together with interns and external specialists, they see to it that our paintings remain in good condition. They repair any damage, carry out scientific research into the materials and techniques the painters used, and ensure that you will be able to continue enjoying the paintings in the future. Unfortunately the conservation studio is inaccesible to the public but we are giving you a glimpse during our current exhibiton.

Restauratoren Carol, Abbie En Sabrina In Het Restauratieatelier Van Het Mauritshuis

In search of secrets

A painting is more than just paint on a surface. It is built up of various layers of material. The base - the ‘support’ - of most 17th-century paintings is a wooden panel or stretched canvas. This is covered with a ‘primer’ which the artist uses to even out the surface of the support. The underdrawing or underpainting, the sketch for the final composition, is applied on the ground. The next layer is the representation itself, which is followed by a final layer of varnish.

Just as archaeologists uncover information about the history of the world in the various strata of the earth, the layers of a painting provide information about the history of the art of painting. Armed with cotton buds, brushes and the latest technology, conservators go in search of the secrets that lie hidden therein.

Onderzoek In Het Restauratieatelier Van Het Mauritshuis

The mystery of the lost soldier

We are currently restoring A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard by Pieter de Hooch (1658-60). This seemed to be a painting of a family group, until a soldier suddenly reappeared from under an overpainting. He was originally seated between the man and the woman at the table and for unknown reasons became redundant in the course of the centuries and was eliminated. What remains of this figure are a bit of his thumb on the beer mug, his coat - which still hangs over the fence - and his pipe. This raises the question of what to do with the soldier? Make him disappear again or place him back at the table?


Pieter De Hooch Binnenplaats Met Rokende Man En Drinkende Vrouw Mh0835 Mauritshuis

About the exhibition

What do you do if a painting is damaged by woodworm? Why was something added to a painting by Frans Hals for no apparent reason? And what dilemma does a conservator face if an extra figure suddenly reappears in a picture?

The exhibition Facelift & Make-overs tells the story of paintings that have been treated in the Mauritshuis over the past 25 years. You will learn all about making the lower layers of paintings visible (which sometimes reveals a completely different composition underneath!), the development of ‘craquelure’ (those fine cracks in the paint of old paintings) and how ‘dendrochronology’ (a technique for dating wood by studying the annual growth rings in tree trunks) can be used to determine a panel’s age.

In short, this exhibition has something for everyone: technology, history and surprising discoveries. The youngest visitors (7+) follow their own route through the exhibition.

0195 Before2
0195 After2

Made possible by

Facelifts & Make-overs has been made possible thanks to the support of the Friends of the Mauritshuis Foundation, Mondriaan Fund, Marjon Ornstein Fund, Fund 1818 and the American Friends of the Mauritshuis.