In Memoriam: J.R.J. van Asperen de Boer (1935-2020)

On Saturday 25 July 2020 Prof. Dr. Johan Rudolph Justus van Asperen de Boer passed away.

Van Asperen de Boer trained as a physicist and in the 1960s he developed infrared reflectography (IRR), a method for optically penetrating the paint layers of an artwork in order to reveal the underdrawing. This is the initial sketch or drawing, on a panel or canvas, on top of which an artist starts to work in paint and IRR can provide a glimpse of this special aspect of the creative process. The development of this method and its use in the field of paintings formed the subject of Van Asperen de Boer's dissertation Infrared reflectography: A contribution to the examination of earlier European paintings (1970). Van Asperen de Boer was also an expert in other areas such as the analysis of paint samples as well as X-radiographs. He shared his knowledge widely. In 1976 he started at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (from 1987-1997 as professor), where he was an inspiring teacher to a new generation of art historians who were trained in what is now called Technical Art History. His students contributed articles to an Album Discipulorum which was published in his honour in 1997.

The extent of Van Asperen de Boer's knowledge is also evident in his impressive list of lectures and publications. His pioneering work in the field of technical research into artworks is invaluable for art history and has added a new dimension to the profession. IRR-research is now used around the world on a large scale. Recognition of his very important work came, for instance, with the award of the Karel van Mander Prize in 1994; in 1997 he received an honorary doctorate from the Université catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve; and in 2013 the 5th International Symposium Painting Techniques, History, Materials and Studio Practice (Rijksmuseum) was dedicated to him. His contributions were even characterized as 'Nobel Prize worthy' in the exhibition catalogue Drunter und Drüber (Munich, Alte Pinakothek 2011).

Van Asperen de Boer travelled the world for decades with unflagging energy, taking the IRR-equipment to museums, churches and other institutes where he gathered an impressive amount of research material. This invaluable archive, which contains research reports, IRR mosaics and paint cross-sections from hundreds of artworks were transferred to the RKD in the mid-1990s. There it formed the basis for the collection of Technical Documentation. The material can be consulted by researchers both now and in the future, which gives it an enduring value for generations to come.

The RKD is grateful to Professor Emeritus J.R.J. van Asperen de Boer for entrusting the collection to our institution and remembers him as a dedicated, amiable and generous colleague and scholar.