Maryan Ainsworth Archive

 Archief Maryan Ainsworth

Maryan Ainsworth, curator of Northern Renaissance paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has handed the RKD her research using infrared reflectography (IRR). In February 2020 the archive was transported from New York. The RKD is delighted with this internationally significant acquisition.

Maryan Ainsworth

Dr Maryan W. Ainsworth took her doctorate at Yale University on Bernard van Orley, after which she started a career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is currently responsible for Early Netherlandish, French and German painting. Through her many publications and exhibitions she has made an important contribution to art history. She has been honoured several times for her work. Recently she was a member of the International Committee of Experts consulted on the conservation of Jan and Hubert Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece in the St Bavo Cathedral, Ghent. Ainsworth developed a speciality in technical research; curatorial projects led to her conducting research using scientific equipment into the underdrawings of many paintings in the United States and elsewhere. 

Infrared reflectography

The method regularly used by Ainsworth is infrared reflectography (IRR), a technique developed in the 1960s by Prof. J.R.J. van Asperen de Boer, which uses infrared light to penetrate paint layers which are opaque in normal light to make visible any underdrawing – the first sketch or drawing made on the panel or canvas by the artist. Since an IRR camera can only capture a small part of the paint surface, multiple images are made which are then joined together to create a complete image of the underdrawing. The mosaic of these images was created in the early days using photographic prints, but over time the IRR process has been gradually digitised. Maryan Ainsworth played an important role in this development.

The archive

Maryan Ainsworth's archive comprises the results of forty years of technical art historical research into hundreds of paintings from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It contains a particularly rich collection of IRR information (analogue and digital), files of transparencies, photographs and other research data. The archive took up a whole office in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because of her leading role as technical art historian, Ainsworth’s research data is well known, and it is of tremendous value for researchers.

An acquisition for the RKD

The RKD is the only place in the world that holds a comparable and important collection of IRR information. It holds the IRR archives of both Van Asperen de Boer and Prof. Molly Faries, another pioneer of infrared reflectography. The collection has been enriched with the results of IRR research undertaken by Margreet Wolters, the RKD's curator for Technical Documentation. Maryan Ainsworth's archive is a wonderful addition to the RKD's collections. Once it had been carefully registered and packed by collections officer Monica Schwarze and Ramses van Bragt, acquisitions coordinator, the archive was transported to the RKD from New York. Thanks to a generous contribution from the Friends of the RKD Foundation, the information will be made available as quickly as possible (including via the website), providing researchers with a unique and precious collection. The RKD is very grateful to the Friends of the RKD for their support.

 Archief Maryan Ainsworth
The archive at the original location in The Metropolitan Museum of Art with left and center Maryan Ainsworth and right Ramses and Monica of the RKD.