Past Event

C. Richard Johnson, Jr. – Using Computed Weave Maps to Gain Art-Historical Insight from Vermeer’s Canvases

May 2, 2017
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
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Music Room of The Frick Collection, 1 E 70th St., New York, NY

Speaker: C. Richard Johnson, Jr., Cornell University

The Thread Count Automation Project (TCAP) launched by Professor Johnson in 2007 discovered striped patterns in color-coded images of local thread densities obtained from digital image processing of x-radiographs of Old Master paintings on canvas. These striped patterns provide a “fingerprint” for pieces of canvas cut from the same roll. This spurred a four-year effort assisted by Walter Liedtke, one of the world’s leading scholars of Dutch and Flemish paintings, to gather x-radiographs of all thirty-four paintings on canvas by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). Six matching pairs of roll-mates have been identified thus far that provide evidence regarding authentication, dating, and—potentially—artistic intent. In addition to weave density maps, images were created of thread angle from their nominal horizontal and vertical directions. These angle maps provide forensic information regarding warp/weft thread designation and cusping, which offers insight into Vermeer’s studio practice and the possible re-sizing of his paintings since their creation. The insights generated by computed weave maps arising from the application of digital image processing are pioneering contributions from engineering to the emerging field of computational art history.

After the presentation The Frick Collection’s Associate Research Curator Margaret Iacono will hold a conversation with Dr. Johnson about his discoveries regarding some of Vermeer’s masterpieces, including The Collection’s iconic Mistress and Maid.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, please contact [email protected] (link sends e-mail). 

C. Richard Johnson, Jr. was born in Macon, GA in 1950. He received a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, along with the first PhD minor in Art History granted by Stanford, in 1977. Following 4 years on the faculty at Virginia Tech, he joined the Cornell University faculty in 1981, where he is the Geoffrey S. M. Hedrick Senior Professor of Engineering and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow. At the start of 2007, after 30 years of research on adaptive feedback systems theory and blind equalization in communication receivers, Professor Johnson accepted a 5-year appointment as an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) to facilitate the interaction of art historians and conservation specialists with algorithm-building signal processors. In 2013, Professor Johnson was appointed a Scientific Researcher of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and Computational Art History Advisor to the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History (the Hague, the Netherlands). Professor Johnson founded the Thread Count Automation Project (TCAP) in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in 2007, initiated the Historic Photographic Paper Classification (HPPC) challenge in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, launched the Chain Line Pattern (CLiP) Matching Project with the Morgan Library & Museum in 2012, with the Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art joining the project in 2013, and the Dutch University Institute for Art History joining in 2014, and created the project on Watermark Identification in Rembrandt’s Etchings (WIRE) in collaboration with Erik Hinterding (Rijksmuseum) and Andy Weislogel (Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art) in 2015.

This lecture is part of The Digital Art History Lab Lectures series.