Dutch or Iranian? Technical study of a seventeenth-century painting on paper from Gesina Ter Bosch’s scrapbook

Amélie Couvrat Desvergnes*, Leila Sauvage, Jan de Hond, Paolo D’Imporzano, Matthias Alfeld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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A scrapbook compiled between 1660 and 1687 by Gesina ter Borch (1631–1690), a female artist from the small town of Zwolle in the Netherlands, contains an intriguing painting on paper of a full-length portrait of a young Iranian. Although the figure wears the attributes in vogue at the Safavid court of Isfahan, certain elements seem rather incongruous and peculiar. The general composition appears static and rigid, an impression reinforced by an unusual black painted background. Stylistic differences within the painting were also observed, hinting at alterations to the original painting. To investigate the history of the painting and to reconstruct the original composition and identify the later additions, perhaps made by Gesina herself, the painting was examined with different imaging and analytic techniques available at the Conservation and Science Department of the Rijksmuseum. This allowed the research team to discriminate between pigments used for the original composition and pigments used to conceal damaged areas of the painting and added pictorial elements. After interpreting scientific results, as well as historical findings, it was possible to shed light on the use of specific pigments, namely lead white and smalt, and on the possible misinterpretation of some details, such as the cup held by the young man. The results of macro X-ray fluorescence scanning (MA-XRF) and lead isotope analysis, viewed in the light of information about the economic and cultural exchanges between Iran and the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, fed new theories about the origin and history of this painting. The painting, originally made in Iran in the style of Riza Abbasi, the head of the Emperor Shah Abbas’ library, ended up in Gesina ter Borch's workshop and may have been ‘restored’ by the artist to improve its condition and to match her tastes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119
Number of pages24
JournalHeritage Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Dutch painting
  • Gesina ter Bosch
  • HIROX-RH 2000
  • Iranian painting
  • Lead isotope
  • Lead white
  • Macro-XRF
  • Micro-XRF
  • Pigment identification
  • Safavid painting
  • Smalt


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