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Author: Jan Kather and Sarah Grossman
Somewhere between conservation science, museum studies, and art history lies a specialized area titled “Technical Art History.” This is what Elmira College alumna Reka De Falussy ’21 now studies at the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. De Falussy, who has a bachelor’s in anthropology-sociology with a minor in art, invited her EC art professors to her home over the holiday break to share her experiences in the program and abroad.
While Technical Art History doesn’t require an art background - some of her current classmates have a bachelor’s in chemistry - De Falussy is grateful she paired her major with an art minor. “The painting, photography, and art history courses I took at Elmira College prepared me for this program, which attracts students from all over the world,” she said. “I think often of my time at EC and I am very grateful for taking Jan Kather’s photography course, as it helped prepare me for my master's classes in artifact documentation, Aaron Kather’s studio art courses also gave me a strong foundation for doing painting reconstructions, and, of course, Chris Longwell’s art history courses taught me so much for the program.”
In her master’s program, De Falussy has been able to study famous paintings in the Rijksmuseum by Dutch masters including Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt van Rijn, Hieronymous Bosch, and Johannes Vermeer.
She now sees paintings in a different way.
“I notice technical details, like the color shifts of verdigris pigments, and historical details, like how well the painting fulfills the prescribed compositional formulas of the time. There is rich symbolism, and every painting has a story.”
She’s also learning how to use tools to analyze the paintings.
“I was introduced to the use of infrared reflectography, x-ray fluorescence, and other analytical instrument techniques as tools to discover when and how a painting was created,” she said. “I found it fascinating how they used infrared technology on the work of 16th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness. A portrait of the person who commissioned the painting was detected underneath layers of paint. It's hypothesized that when this person did not pay the commission, Bosch painted them out, and put a strange, bulbous fruit over their face.” (See a virtual view of the infrared image delineating the face at this link.)
When determining her graduate thesis topic, De Falussy thought about her volunteer experiences at the Corning Museum of Glass. She decided to research a glass flute made by 19th-century Parisian glassmaker Claude Laurent that King Louis Napoleon I commissioned. “I know the Corning Museum of Glass also owns a Laurent glass flute, and of course, popstar Lizzo recently made news when she played U.S. president James Madison’s 200-year-old Laurent flute during a Washington, D.C. concert. I will be researching the materials aspect of King Louis Napoleon I’s delicate flute, which shows deterioration from exposure to high humidity, including moisture from a player’s breath.”
Although she’s living abroad, De Falussy has continued to volunteer remotely for the Corning Museum of Glass.
"After traveling to Europe to continue her studies, Reka's lifelong passion for the arts became even more evident when she began volunteering remotely as a Glass Research Volunteer, assisting The Rakow Research Library with completing artist bibliographies that can be shared with the world,” said Jessica Trump, CMoG’s Volunteer and Intern Supervisor. “We are thrilled to have had Reka as a part of our organization over the last 5 years, and we look forward to seeing where her future career in the arts takes her."
De Falussy is keeping an open mind about where her studies will take her after graduation.
“The provenance of a piece of art assures the owner that the work is not a fake,” she said. “I will likely consider applying for a position in a museum or auction house. This research is opening up many possibilities.”