Studying the wood of art objects such as sculptures, panel paintings and furniture can be crucial to elucidate their chronology and production centre. Here we present an approach that considers the provenance of the wood and its potential availability in different areas as a means to identify the provenance of wooden art objects. We illustrate this approach with an interdisciplinary study aimed to determine the date and provenance of the Woman with lantern, a carved altar fragment from the Rijksmuseum's collections (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). The origin of this object is undocumented, but based on stylistic and iconographic features its provenance was proposed to be the altarpiece of Rennes cathedral (France), carved in Antwerp (Belgium) around 1520 C.E. However, doubts arose when curators tested the potential fit of the sculpture in that altarpiece and could not find a neat match. Dating and provenancing the wood of the sculpture by standard dendrochronological means failed to produce a date, and comparison of the tree-ring pattern from the sculpture with those of the sculptures from Rennes altarpiece delivered no results either, supporting the suspicion that the Woman with lantern belonged elsewhere. In 2019, X-ray computed tomography (CT) provided digital cross-sections throughout the sculpture and a longer tree-ring series was obtained. This time, the outermost ring was dated to the year 1487 C.E. The tree was estimated to have been cut after 1495 C.E., indicating a likely production in the first quarter of the 16th century. The origin of the timber in the eastern Netherlands/northwest Germany, combined with empirical evidence about timber availability in various regions of the Low Countries at that time, suggests that the sculpture was made in a workshop located north of the Rhine in the (current) Netherlands, rather than Antwerp. This research has led to the hypothesis that workshops north and south of the Rhine river branches in the Low Countries were supplied by forests located in different areas. If proven correct, establishing the wood provenance will assist in determining the origin of Netherlandish works of art from the late-Gothic and Northern Renaissance periods.

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DendroResearch, Wageningen, The Netherlands , Van Daalen Dendrochronologie, Deventer, The Netherlands
Journal of Cultural Heritage
CT for Art: from Images to Patterns , Real-Time 3D Tomography

Domínguez-Delmás, M, Bossema, F.G, van der Mark, B, Kostenko, A, Coban, S.B, van Daalen, S, … Batenburg, K.J. (2021). Dating and provenancing the Woman with lantern sculpture – A contribution towards attribution of Netherlandish art. Journal of Cultural Heritage. doi:10.1016/j.culher.2021.04.005