Project Team

Sylvie Neven

Sylvie Neven earned her PhD in History, Art and Archaeology at the University of Liège. She is currently researcher in the framework of a First Spin-Off at the ULg, Service d’histoire et technologie des arts plastiques -Temps modernes. She is also lecturer at the same University. Her work combines historical, philological, experimental and archaeometrical approaches to focus on written sources in art technology. She proposes to use these sources to study the practices and the materials of artists from Antiquity across Europe. She dedicated her doctoral thesis, Les recettes artistiques du Manuscrit de Strasbourg et leur tradition dans les réceptaires allemands des XVe et XVIe siècles (édition, traduction et commentaires technologiques), to one of the most relevant examples of this technical literature, the Strasbourg Manuscript. This work has recently been published by Archetype Publications (London) ‘The Strasbourg Manuscript. A Medieval Tradition of Artists’ Recipe Collections (1400-1570)’. Since January 2016 she coordinates the project ‘APPROACH’ (Authentication, Preservation and Production of Artistic Material for Cultural Heritage) which offers services in documentation and expertise for authentication and preservation of works of art.

Development Team

Founded in 2015, Deuse is a company specialised in data analysis/processing and in software development from Liège. Their team is composed of members with complementary skills who work to improve the processes of their clients using computer science. Reliability and innovation are some of the values that make Deuse a special partner in the long run.

The Project Approach

The project APPROACH (Authentication, Preservation and Production of Artistic Material for Cultural Heritage) initially relies on the results of a vast study conducted by Sylvie Neven on artistic treatises and recipe books produced from Antiquity across Europe.

In 2006, Sylvie started her research on these particular type of historical source, focussing on one of the most well-known recipe books produced in the Middle Ages: the Strasbourg Manuscript. For the purpose of her doctoral thesis, she examined dozens of recipes books from that period. Her study consisted not only in the transcription and translation of these texts but also relied on historical, philological and codicological analyses. Such an approach notably served to provide information concerning their historical and geographical contexts of redaction. At that time, the amount of information provided by artists’ recipe books necessitated recourse to information technology. Sylvie compiled a first database taking into account the characteristics of the texts already known and studied. Initially, it concentrated on manuscripts written during the medieval period from Germany and the border countries. More than 300 examples were listed and their content divided according to every recipe that they contain. At that time Sylvie used the database to study the evolution of tradition of artists’ recipe collection over time. One of her main objectives was to improve knowledge of the nature and characteristics of medieval artists’ recipe books in order to better estimate their relevance as sources for the study of the history of artists’ techniques.

From 2011-2015, Sylvie conducted a postdoctoral fellowship between the University of Liège and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In this framework, Sylvie enlarged her corpus up the 650 texts. At the Maw Planck, she collaborated with the Research Group 'Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe' (Dir. Sven Dupré) and coordinated the development of another database dedicated to ‘Colour Practice and Knowledge’. This group investigated how artisans invented and appropriated knowledge, conceived and categorized knowledge, and transmitted and circulated knowledge in the visual and decorative arts in the pre-modern period. One focus of this Max Planck Research Group’s work is the role of written transmissions in the circulation of knowledge within the early modern artisanal workshop and beyond, starting with the close examination of collections of artisanal recipes.

Since 2016, Sylvie has extended her research to any type of text dealing with art-technology, produced from Antiquity until recent time. Doing so, her corpus includes not only the oldest artists’ recipes written on papyrus, but also medieval and premodern manuscripts as well as printed records of artists’ secrets or theoretical and teaching books.

The project APPROACH intends to propose access to this original and largely unpublished corpus of art-technological sources the recourse to the Colour ConText database. Thanks to the various types of subscriptions, users can access to the contain of Colour ConText and make requests that can be subsequently saved on their own personal page.

An Original Way To Value Art

The information provided by the Colour ConText database is not only of interest to the art historian and the technical art historian but also to the conservator/restorer and the curator.

Documentation & Expertise

Such knowledge contributes to a better understanding of the various steps involved in the creation of a work of art, as well as the various materials from which it has been crafted. This may serve to evaluate more precisely its artistic, economic – and even symbolic – value.

Authentication & Analysis

It can help to situate the work of art within a specific place of production, a geographical area or artistic movement. These data can also be used to specify or corroborate the results obtained from scientific analyses performed on the work of art.

Preservation & Restoration

They provide a more pertinent understanding of the work of art, suggesting the most appropriate intervention for its preservation as well as facilitating the identification of any alterations that may have been made.

Production & Reconstruction

The information delivered by the recipes can form the basis of (experimental) reconstructions of historical artistic practices and materials. They can also serve to (re)create artistic materials to be used at the present day.

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The Colour ConText database is developed for the project APPROACH by Dr Sylvie Neven.

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