Innovation in Ship Design in the Age of Sail: A Digital Approach

The Age of Sail saw significant innovations in ship design, which greatly increased European nations' ability to explore, compete, and trade globally. However, historians lack evidence to assess the performance of these vessels. This project aims to develop a new methodology to rigorously study technological innovation in ship design across time, taking as comparison Dutch and British ships of the eighteenth century. By combining historical analysis with 3D scanning techniques and engineering simulations, the study pioneers a new methodology for the study of the historical past and provides insights into one of the most innovative periods in navigation history.

  • Project leader: Dr Lia Costiner
  • Participants: Project team, national and international partners
  • Duration: 2024 - 2025
  • Funding: NWO XS Grant
Decoding Raphael: Computational Study of the Production and Reproduction of Italian Renaissance Paintings

This project investigates the use of computational techniques for the study of artistic practice, taking as point of departure the paintings of the Renaissance artist Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio, 1483-1520). Dozens of faithful reproductions survive of Raphael's paintings, attesting to the lucrative practice of serial production of paintings within the artist's workshop and to the lasting demand for the master's designs. This project will apply computer vision techniques to the study of these reproductions, providing new insights into Raphael's working methods while, more widely, pioneering new digital approaches for the study of artistic practice in art history.

  • Project leader: Dr Lia Costiner
  • Participants: eScience Center
  • Duration: 2023 - 2024
  • Funding: eScience Center, Digital Approaches to the Humanities
Dynamics of the Durable: A History of Making Things Last in the Visual and Decorative Arts

How long can an art work survive? This question is typically considered a problem of cultural heritage conservation—as the physical problem of how art can best be kept and stored in its original condition for as long as possible. This research programme investigates the problem of durability in art in an entirely new manner. It turns to the patrons and artists of the past and their ambitions for art’s survival:

  • How did artisans explore ways to make objects durable?
  • What determined the desire of patrons to order and own durable art objects?
  • What social practices and institutions were designed for an object’s survival?

DURARE is the first synthetic study of the impact of these ambitions for durability on the long-term development of European art traditions. It provides a break-through in our understanding of why the West regards cultural heritage as something that ought to be frozen in time. It shows how artisanal knowledge about the stability and ageing of materials impacted fundamental knowledge traditions outside the history of art. And it sheds new light on why, in response to the supposed durability of the arts of the past, contemporary art often became ephemeral instead.

Constructing the Limes: Investigating the border of the Roman Empire in the Netherlands

This interdisciplinary programme explores humans and cultures of the area of the limes, the border of the Roman Empire which run roughly from Katwijk, via Utrecht, to Nijmegen (and thence farther along the Rhine and Donau to the Black Sea). This border was a transition zone between the Roman Empire and the world beyond.

One aspect of the project is the reception of the limes since the Early Modern era and how this resonated in the culture, cultural politics, and arts of the Netherlands.

This subproject covers the rediscovery of the limes by antiquarians, humanists, and artists in the period 1500-1750 and the early creation of myths about the ancient inhabitants of this part of Europe (Batavians, Chatten, Eburones, Romans, Germans, Frisians); the errors in the interpretation of co-called Roman “temples” and “castella” along the Rhine and Donau, and their elaboration in the architecture of the Low Countries, the German states, and beyond.

PALAMUSTO: Research and Training for the Palace Museum of Tomorrow

The European Training Network PALAMUSTO of leading European universities, heritage institutions and palace-museums investigates the court residence or palace as a phenomenon of cultural exchange, not only in the past but also today and in the future. The multidisciplinary turn taken by the research on the court residence has not yet been translated into a new historical synthesis which reflects the new understanding of court residence as expression and marker of courtly power.

Ten PhD students in five different countries examine European palace architecture and interiors and the international connections and exchange in this field. Ten subprojects have been identified, each of which explores a theme in palace architecture diachronically and internationally. The UU collaborates with four universities and a number of heritage institutions including the Dutch National Heritage Agency.

Structures of Strength: Unusual Collaborations on Porous Materials

Structures of Strength will:

1) develop workable innovative solutions to societal challenges relating to porous materials;

2) create discussions across disciplines from which we learn to identify the parallels in the work of different research fields and obtain unique skills that help us act more effectively on future challenges.

During the first year, two already formulated cross-boundary challenges related to improving intestinal barriers (a bio-medical challenge) and protecting our historical monuments (a cultural heritage challenge) will be addressed.

Tapping into the expertise of different fields and identifying parallels between them will establish a common language that will support the more universal principles for characterisation, design and use of porous materials.

Disease, Social Memory and Resilience: A Competition for Artistic Research Expertise

This project addresses the aspect of social dynamics during and after an epidemic such as the current COVID-19 crisis. It connects two urgent question complexes:

1) How is disease experienced, documented and remembered on the collective level of society? How do the memory and historical understanding of past disease-related crises shape the way we deal with current and future epidemics? What are the terms, concepts and very concrete images a society uses to negotiate these issues?

2) What is the role of art, artists and memory culture in moments of crisis? Particularly if the crisis strongly impacts and limits public life and its institutions, thus also limits artists’ possibilities for expression, and very practically their economic conditions of work? The project provides a forum for artistic research to contribute to expounding and bridging the gaps which occur, quite literally, in our society if ‘social distancing’ is the rule of the day.

We tackle these questions by way of an artistic competition in a cooperation with the Centraal Museum Utrecht.

  • Project leader: Prof. Eva-Maria Troelenberg
  • Participants: Dr Surekha Davies, Prof. Maarten Prak, Prof. Ann Rigney (UU); René de Kam, Laurie Cluitmans (Centraal Museum)
  • Funding: ZonW grant “Wetenschap in de Praktijk”
  • Duration: July - Dec 2020


The Mondrian Papers

The Mondrian Papers is an academic online edition of the entire correspondence and theoretical writings of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). The edition will be fully annotated and illustrated. All relevant secondary sources (personal documents, studio and portrait photos, amongst others) are also included in the edition.

It is a work in progress and will be published in parts. The Mondrian Edition Project is a collaboration between the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Huygens Institute for Dutch History.

  • Participants: Prof. Chris Stolwijk, Wietse Coppes, Dr Leo Jansen
  • Funding: Fonds 21, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, International Music and Art Foundation, Jaap Harten Fund
  • Duration : 2015 - 2027
Everlasting Flowers Between the Pages: Botanical Watercolors in Seventeenth-Century

The flower book (an assemblage of flower watercolors) became a popular pictorial genre for garden enthusiasts to visually document their plant collections in the seventeenth century. Due to their beautiful images and the lack of text, flower books are mostly labeled as objects of affluence and pleasure with little to no scientific value today. This project questions such a notion by considering two contributions integral to the early modern development of botany: a collector’s garden as a site of studying and an artist’s technical expertise to picture nature.

Using the perspectives of both the collector and the artist, this project emphasizes the intertwined nature of art and science in generating early modern botanical knowledge. By integrating methodologies typical for a historical research with new approaches in Digital Humanities and historical remaking, this project will explain the epistemic values of seventeenth-century watercolor flower books and their role in knowledge production in early modern Europe.

Histories of Global Netherlandish Art, 1550-1750

The project explores the global dimensions of early modern Netherlandish art, with Antwerp and Amsterdam as hubs of global exchange. Everyday lives changed as foreign luxuries, and their local imitations, became a household presence. Images of real and imagined foreigners circulated on an unprecedented scale. Travelers and scholars pondered unknown iconographies, which sometimes threatened to unsettle Eurocentric perspectives.

The project’s key question is: how did new artistic media, materials, and meanings emerge in the wake of European expansion? It addresses the interplay between artistic, scholarly, and commercial institutions (guilds, academies, collections, trading companies) in order to shed new light on transfers of cultural knowledge and innovation in the early modern world.

  • Project leader: Prof. Thijs Weststeijn  
  • Participants: Dr Marjolijn Bol and Dr Surekha Davies
  • Funding: UU Executive Board
  • Duration: 2018 - 2022
Art DATIS: Integration and improvement of sources on glass for a Sustainable future

The project focuses on the questions of how historical sources were used to innovate glass production and education in the twentieth century, and how we can efficiently link the enormous amount of newly digitized art technical sources on artistic glass production, such as object documentation, technical texts, images, and research data. The project will digitize unique materials from the archives of glass artist Sybren Valkema (1916-1996), managed by Stichting Vrij Glas, and integrate and enrich them with existing databases containing different kinds of data on the history of artistic glass production. The project is designed to link with the RKD Explore and ARTECHNE databases.

  • Project leader: Prof. Sven Dupré
  • Participants: Dr Marieke Hendriksen, Dr Evangelos Kanoulas (UvA)
  • Partners: RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History, Stichting Vrij Glas, Picturae, Corning Museum of Glass, Glasmuseum Hentrich/Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf
  • Funding: NWO Smart Culture - Big Data / Digital Humanities
  • Duration: 2018 – 2022
NICAS: Gilt leather artefacts

This project aims to understand the complex characteristics of gilt leather, its material dynamics and interactions with past and present conservation materials. It will do so by using advanced non-destructive testing instrumentation, something that has been done very rarely for this type of material. The results of the project will be used to develop new strategies for the conservation of gilt leather.

  • Principal investigators: Dr R.M. Groves (Delft University of Technology), Drs. R. Hoppenbrouwers (Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg), Dr E.F. Koldeweij
  • Partners: Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Delft University of Technology, Fries Museum, Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam, Limburgs Museum, Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics, University of Amsterdam, Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg
  • Funding: NWO
Confronting National and UNESCO Regulations: Theories and Policies of Conservation of Monuments in Europe and China

This research will focus on the differences in policies for monument conservation in China and Europe, with a particular focus on world heritage. It will question the implementation of UNESCO regulation and enforcement in China and Europe with the Low Countries in particular. The project will specifically consider buffer zones of urban ensembles (e.g. the Amsterdam 17th century canals and Suzhou classical gardens) where national and UNESCO regulation collide.

  • Project leader: Xiaobai Chen
  • Supervisors: Prof. Koen Ottenheym and Dr Merlijn Hurx
  • Funding: CSC grant for PhD research (China Scholarship Council)
  • Duration: 2017 - 2021
Entangled Cultural Histories. Encounters between China and Europe

Cultural encounters between China and Europe are increasingly frequent. With intensifying trade relations, business cooperation, and tourism come meetings of different kinds. Yet preconceptions, stereotypes, and misunderstandings often distort the European perspective. This is not a new dynamic. It is rooted in the first period of intensive contacts, when European trading companies, missionaries, and travellers established contacts with Chinese merchants, scholars, and officials. This seminar, which brings together Chinese and Dutch historians, explores to what extent the approach of cultural history is relevant to the study of encounters between Chinese and Europeans during the late Ming and Qing dynasties. Interdisciplinary and comparative in scope, it addresses visual, literary, and scholarly representations of East and West against the background of actual encounters. Understanding the development of mutual images which developed synchronously in China and Europe enlightens intercultural relations that continue to be relevant in a globalized world.

  • Project leader: Prof. Thijs Weststeijn
  • Participant: Prof. Dong Shaoxin
  • Partners: National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University; University of Amsterdam
  • Funding: NWO JSTP Dialogue Seminar
  • Duration: 2016 - 2017
Recipes and realities: An analysis of texture rendering in still-life painting

Painters in the Dutch Golden Age were masters in the rendering of materials and their various surface effects, a know-how that was pivotal for the art of still life painting in particular. In the 17th century, a treatise on the medium of oil paint was written by Willem Beurs that contains numerous specific recipes for the pictorial construction of objects with different surface textures. This project will study and test such recipes to gain a better understanding of how painters achieved their effects, and how they created patterns that somehow resonate with the patterns the human visual system uses to recognize, discriminate or perceive.

The project will combine philological and technical/material research on the recipes in the treatise of Beurs and related recipes with scientific research that is concerned with the way pictorial stimuli may trigger particular perceptual experiences in human observers. By doing so, the project intends to draw a link between the recipes in the treatise of Beurs and the physiochemical and optical state of paintings created from these recipes as measured by a variety of modern scientific imaging techniques. In this way, it hopes to shed light on a ‘mystery of mastery’ encountered in Dutch Golden Age still lifes.

  • Project Leader: Prof. Jeroen Stumpel
  • Partner organisations: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Mauritshuis The Hague, Delft University of Technology, University of Amsterdam, University of Groningen
  • Funding: NWO / Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science
  • Duration: 2016 - 2021
Art and Deception: functions, techniques and effects of material mimesis

This project investigates a type of mimesis where one material imitates the visual properties of another material in the pre-industrial history of art and science: material mimesis. Imitation materials surround us in our everyday life: from laminate floors that resemble wood to e-books that allow flipping their pages in imitation of paper.

One might think therefore that material mimesis is typical for our modern age, the practice is ancient however, and can be observed in artworks from some of the earliest known civilisations. Ancient potters and glassmakers invented complex ceramic glazes to give glass and clay the appearance of metalwork and discovered a type of transparent glass that could imitate crystal. Medieval painters applied brilliant, translucent paint on reflective metal leaf to imitate precious stones, stained glass windows and lustrous enamel.

As material mimesis does not constitute a homogeneous phenomenon, nor is it limited to European visual traditions, specific art forms, or a particular period, the project studies the diverse roles the phenomenon has played in pre-industrial Western art and science. This focus on a continuous period in craft history, before the industrial revolution changed the world of the artisan, allows for a comparative study of the crafts relevant to material mimesis.

The study of such a diverse phenomenon, while rooted in art history, demands interactions with historical studies of craft, technology, science, social studies and the making of historical reconstructions.

  • Projectleader: Dr Marjolijn Bol
  • Funding: NWO Veni
  • Duration: 2015 - 2018
Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise (ARTECHNE)

The transmission of ‘technique’ in art has been a conspicuous ‘black box’ resisting analysis. Only in the most recent years, the history of science and technology has turned to how-to instructions as given in recipes. The project ARTECHNE proposes to undertake the experimental reconstruction of historical recipes to finally open the black box of the transmission of technique in the visual and decorative arts. Considering ‘technique’ as a textual, material and social practice, this project will write a long-term history of the theory and practice of the study of ‘technique’ in the visual and decorative arts between 1500 and 1950.

The three central research questions here are: (1) what is technique in the visual and decorative arts, (2) how is technique transmitted and studied, and (3) who is considered expert in technique, and why? This project integrates methodologies typical for the humanities and historical disciplines with laboratory work, and lays the historical foundations of the epistemologies of conservation, restoration and technical art history.

  • Project Leader: Prof. Sven Dupré
  • Funding: ERC Consolidator Grant
  • Duration: September 2015 to August 2020
The Chinese Impact: Images and Ideas of China in the Dutch Golden Age

The project The Chinese Impact examines images of China in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century. An interdisciplinary group of art historians, historians, and sinologists explores how early cultural contacts gave rise to images that developed into stereotypes, some of which remain relevant to the present day. The European perspective is complemented with an Asian one: How did the Chinese see the Dutch?

The project pioneers the comprehensive study of China’s impact on low and high culture in the Netherlands, from the Chinese ceramics in Rembrandt’s studio to the popular comparison of Spinoza to Confucius. It establishes how the self-image of the fledgling Dutch Republic was honed in the Chinese mirror, from Delftware imitations of porcelain to ideals of religious toleration and republicanism. Historians have neglected the 17th-century Low Countries because they failed to analyze art and ideas in an integrated manner. Only interdisciplinary study does justice to the mutually dependent images by craftsmen and scholars from the Netherlands which were widely influential.

  • Projectleader: Prof. Thijs Weststeijn
  • Participants: Dr Lennert Gesterkamp, Trude Dijkstra MA, Willemijn van Noord MA
  • Funding: NWO Vidi
  • Duration: 2014 - 2019
Architects and Bureaucrats: the Court and the Origins of Architectural Planning in Northern Europe (1370-1540)

Contrary to the general belief that the origins of ‘modern’ architectural planning go back to Renaissance architectural theory, this project will attempt to demonstrate that the modernisation of planning, which means working out complete building plans prior to construction, was closely related to the administrative reforms of central government in the Late Middle Ages. The centralisation of administration by the Northern European courts had a major impact on the production of architecture a century before architectural treatises were introduced in the North.

The hypothesis underpinning the project is that new bureaucratic procedures necessitated the recording of decisions and agreements that were previously left implicit.The new building administration led to a standardisation of accounts and construction documents, and encouraged the rationalisation of architectural planning. It gave rise to a better documentation of the design and the construction process, which led to the development of modern conventions in recording architecture in drawings and textual documents.

  • Project Leader: Dr Merlijn Hurx
  • Funding: NWO Veni
  • Duration: 2014 - 2016
The Quest for an Appropriate Past. Literature, Architecture and the Creation of National Identities in Early Modern Europe (c.1400–1700)

In current mainstream interpretations of ‘Renaissance’ art as a ‘Rebirth of Antiquity’, antiquity has misleadingly acquired a standard definition based on the international canon. In this perspective, there seems to be only one ideal Antiquity and only one proper embodiment of Antiquity Reborn: the reception of Rome’s antiquities in 15th- and 16th-century Florence and Rome. Thus, the bias toward a ‘proper’ antiquity has created the idea of a ‘proper’ Renaissance.

Consequently, most Antiquity-inspired architecture, art and literature in Northern Europe – as well as in Spain, France and the Italian periphery from Lombardy to Sicily – have been analysed and interpreted with Central Italian solutions as a single point of reference, and have not infrequently been seen as ‘provincial’, ‘hybrid’ or ‘still a little bit medieval’. As a result, the specific meaning of conscious references to local history also remained obscure.

Instead of addressing incorrect or vernacular transformations of the Roman ideal, however, this project will try to find a more positive explanation for those examples of the Antique that do not resemble the ‘standard’. Therefore, we must ask by what means – i.e. through which other models or interpretations of antiquities – artists and patrons created their reconstruction of Antiquity.

  • Project Leaders: Prof. Koen Ottenheym, Prof. Karl A.E. Enenkel (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)
  • Funding: KNAW (Over grenzen)
  • Duration: 2014 - 2016
Medieval Memoria Online (MeMO)

MeMO aims to help scholars in carrying out research into the commemoration of the dead during the period up to the Reformation (c. 1580) in the area that is the present-day country of the Netherlands. See

Repertory of Dutch and Flemish Paintings in Italian Public Collections

The main goal of this project is the academic analysis and accessibility of the more than 10,000 Dutch and Flemish paintings in the Italian public domain at a regional level. As a result, this largely unknown but fundamental part of the Dutch and Belgian cultural heritage, which was exported to Italy or produced there, will become more accessible and recorded in text and image.

Thanks to the centuries-old commercial and artistic relations between the two traditionally most important areas of art production in northern and southern Europe, Italy can boast a unique art heritage in this area, dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. A lot of the paintings are unknown or have been kept under a wrong artist’s name in museum repositories, as a result of which the paintings have rarely been studied. The works of art in question fall under the jurisdiction of the Italian state, the church, Italian municipal, regional or other local authorities and can also be found, in addition to museums, in churches, monasteries, town halls and villas.

Part I on the Liguria region, containing 441 paintings, was published in 1998. Part II, covering 909 paintings in Lombardy, was published in two separate volumes in 2001-2002. Part III about Piemonte covers 1063 paintings and has been published in two separate volumes in 2012. Parts IV (Veneto), V (Emila Romagna & Tuscany) and VI (Lazio) are in preparation.

  • Project Leader: Prof. Michael Kwakkelstein
  • Funding: Friends Foundation of the Dutch University Institute for Art History in Florence (NIKI)
  • Duration: 1998 -
The Dutch Global Age

The art of the Dutch ‘Golden’ Age has many non-Western elements, from the Islamic scarf of Vermeer’s Girl with Pearl Earring to Rembrandt’s Chinese porcelain. The project, The Dutch Global Age: Worldly Images and Images of the World in Netherlandish Art, examines how Netherlandish art has contributed to a global worldview and demonstrates the contemporary relevance of Netherlandish Old Masters in a globalising world. The research team explores interactions between the arts of the Netherlands and the world beyond Europe. It combines different approaches, from technical art history to iconography and economic art history.