Infrared reflectography (IRR) is one of the most important investigative techniques used to examine paintings, particularly those of the northern Renaissance, as it is capable of penetrating through the first paint layers to detect carbon-containing underdrawing materials and other important invisible features. Infrared examination of Hieronymus Bosch’s
Acquiring the Infrared Image
The infrared reflectogram image of Death and the Miser is a mosaic of 210 detail images acquired with a custom near-infrared camera optimized for this application. The camera consists of an interference filter that passes light from 1100 to 1400 nm, a macro near-infrared lens, and a cryo-cooled indium antimonide (InSb) detector array (640 by 512 pixels). The resulting images were mosaicked and registered to the color image using in-house software developed with George Washington University. The spatial sampling of the painting is 260 pixels per inch.
Upper Portion of the Painting
In the image below, the underdrawing shows the miser grabbing the sack held by the demon, probably containing money, while holding with his other hand an ornate metal vessel. Neither of these actions appears in the final painting, and their discovery has important consequences for the interpretation of the subject. By eliminating the miser’s acceptance of the bag of money and the goblet, Bosch has increased the level of ambiguity and anticipation. Will the miser achieve salvation, represented by the crucifix in the window at the upper left, or will he be damned for his sin of avarice? The underdrawing also shows the miser’s mouth open, as if he were speaking, and Death’s arrow is closer to him.
To view IR image details, click on the thumbnail image below the large image.