08 Dec Colours of the Golden Age
Are you looking for things to do during your Christmas break? Go visit UvA’s Special Collections in the city centre. I recently visited the exhibition of master colourist Dirk Jansz. van Santen (1637–1708) and I’ll give you a little sneak peek of his work!
Today a profession in colouring other people’s illustrations would be hard to imagine, but a few centuries ago it was not an unusual job. In the Special Collections exhibition you can admire the work of several colourists and you can see a bit of the present-day restoration process that revives these old pieces of art.
About Van Santen
During the 17th century – also known as the Golden Age – Dirk Jansz. van Santen was renown for the way he coloured and ornamented books, prints and maps. The Dutch economy was fully flourishing and these books and maps were important products for international trade. Many colourists of that time were from the Netherlands, but Van Santen was one of the most important artists.
Unfortunately, not a lot is known about him. What we do know, is that he was born in 1637 as the son of a bookseller, at what is now called the Oudekerksplein in Amsterdam. Van Santen got married at the age of 37, and had seven children – most of them died young. The colourist himself died when he was 71. The last 25 years of his life, he lived in what used to be his father’s house and bookstore. If you are curious for this place, it is located at Oudekerksplein 54, which now houses a coffee shop.
Van Santen was already highly appreciated during his life. But what made his work so unique? His use and variation of colours was especially outstanding. He combined different colours in such a way, that paintings became vivid and striking. Perhaps the most important characteristic of his work is his use of gold. Maps and illustrations were provided with a considerable amount of golden lines and strokes.
“He made the Golden Age quite literally golden.” – Truusje Goedings about Van Santen, 1992
The Special Collections exhibition also pays attention to the process of colour fading in paintings and other objects. Unfortunately, most of the colours we see today on paintings that were made years or even centuries ago, are not the same colours that the artist actually used. The vividness and type of colour can change under influence of environmental factors, such as temperature, light and humidity.
In the exhibition you can find some examples of colour fading, how they study this process and what can be done to diminish it. You might even recognise some techniques from chemistry in high school! One technique that is used by restorers to separate colours and analyse pigments, is liquid chromatography. The picture below shows a piece from the exhibit, that explains how chromatography works.
If you are interested in old maps, coloured prints and a little science behind the work of restorers, I would definitely recommend you to check out this exhibition. Most information is in Dutch, but some explanations are provided in English too. You can pay a visit until the end of January, and – not unimportant – it’s free for UvA students!
Which piece of Van Santen is your favourite?