Digital Corpus of Flemish Retabels

The aim of the project Digital Corpus of Flemish Retables is to disclose three collections of 15th and 16th century Flemish altarpieces in images in order to create a Digital Corpus of Flemish Retables that is as complete as possible. It contains visual documentation that was collected by Herman De Smedt (1927-2009), Jaap Leeuwenberg (1904-1978) and Hans Nieuwdorp (°1944). For this project, that is funded by the Chair for Medieval Sculpture in the Netherlands, lluminare collaborates with the RKD - Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague. By joining forces to provide access to specialist documentation the two institutes aim to increase the significance of this material for scholars and to promote interest in sculpture from the Middle Ages. The Digital Corpus of Flemish Retables started in September 2016 under the supervision of Suzanne Laemers (RKD) and Prof. Jan Van der Stock (Illuminare) and is carried out by Iris Ippel (RKD), Olivia Puzzolante and Hannah De Moor (Illuminare), whose dissertation on Netherlandish carved altarpieces in medieval Sweden contributes to this research project.


FINGERPRINT is an interdisciplinary collection and data management project, involving art history, art technical research, digital imaging, image processing and conservation science. The aim is to use advanced digital imaging, statistical processing and laboratory analyses to monitor and evaluate the phases of the genesis of a print, from preparatory drawings through proof impressions to later states and editions. The four year project is a collaboration of the Print Room of the Royal Library of Belgium and three KU Leuven teams: Illuminare, the Imaging Lab and ESAT. Up to now art historical research on prints and drawings has depended for the most part on traditional art historical methods based on observation with the naked eye and on the subjective memory and knowledge of connoisseurs. The aim of this project is to develop tools to automatically perform an objective artefact analysis and software to visualize, compare and order large quantities of complex visual and material data. The exceptional collection of graphic works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the Royal Library of Belgium forms a test corpus for the project. As an affiliated PhD student, Maarten Bassens is currently conducting research within the FINGERPRINT project.


The RICH project (Reflectance Imaging for Cultural Heritage, Illuminare, in collaboration with ESAT) is developing an imaging tool for research, study, and exploration of the material characteristics of graphic materials produced in medieval and early modern times. The development of the RICH minidome enables multi-spectral imaging, expands non-destructive art-technical research and has great potential in determining conservation treatments of irreplaceable cultural heritage artifacts. With the minidome, the topography of medieval book illuminations, stamps, inks, seals and bookbinding stamps is visualized and monitored in 3D.

Rijmbijbel of Jacob van Maerlant

In collaboration with the Manuscript Department of the Royal Library of Belgium, and the conservation studio of the KBR, Lieve Watteeuw starts in February 2017 an integrated research on the material characteristics of the ‘Rijmbijbel of Jacob van Maerlant’. Maerlant is one of the most important Middle Dutch authors during the Middle Ages. The Brussels manuscript is the oldest illustrated manuscript in the Dutch language. Since 2016, it is undergoing an intensive conservation treatment, funded by the Fund de la Serna of the King Boudewijn Foundation. With scientific imaging (the Micro-dome, the Hirox 3D binocular) and through Xrf mapping the project will reveal detailed information on production characteristics of this important 13th century manuscript and support the conservation treatment. The research is conducted in collaboration with the Imaging Lab – KU Leuven and the laboratories of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA).

The ArtGarden research project

The ArtGarden research project tests and develops an efficient, “best practices” matrix tool for the art-technical monitoring, imaging and documenting fragile historic mixed-media objects. This is used to facilitate decision making during conservation and preservation practice. The case study of ArtGarden is the conservation and preservation of the unique collection of seven Enclosed Gardens from the Mechelen City Museums. Due to the multimedia nature of the Gardens this project generates new know-how that can be applied to the conservation of other complex heritage objects in comparable conditions. The aim is to develop an international benchmarking project for conservation and preservation of original multi-media artefacts in museal environments. Promoters of the ArtGarden research project are the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), the KU Leuven and the University of Antwerp, Axes. In January 2017, Hannah Iterbeke joined the ArtGarden research project, and has been studying the significance and preservation of historical mixed-media ensembles in the context of her PhD dissertation.

The Enclosed Gardens of the Municipal Museums of Mechelen

In October 2014, a team of restorers started with the restoration of the seven Enclosed Gardens (Dutch: Besloten Hofjes) held by the Municipal Museums of Mechelen. The collection of seven Enclosed Gardens dates to the 16th century and belonged to the former convent of Mechelen’s Hospital Sisters. Enclosed Gardens were mainly fabricated in the city of Mechelen, though only a few survive. Because of its extraordinary coherence and uniqueness, this collection of seven Enclosed Gardens was recognised as belonging to the category of Flemish Masterpieces by the Flemish Government. The aim of the research and restoration project is to gather expertise on the conservation and restoration of comparable mixed-media objects. After restoration, three of the Enclosed Gardens were presented to the public for the first time at the prestigious and international exhibition In search of Utopia (2016) in Museum M in Leuven. By 2018, one of the main goals of the project will be achieved: The entire collection of seven Enclosed Gardens will be on permanent display in the Municipal Museums of Mechelen (Hof van Busleyden).

The Manuscript from Sawalo

Illuminare is researching and exposing the 12th century Gospels from the abbey of Saint-Amand-les-Eaux. This commonly not well-known masterpiece is being kept at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp. The manuscript was written and illuminated over eight hundred years ago, approximately between 1160 and 1200. The illuminator, who is known only as ‘Follower of the Master of Sawalo’, remains anonymous to this day. Nevertheless, he was active throughout the golden age of the abbey. In the final quarter of the 12th century, the quality of book illumination at the scriptorium of  Saint-Amand-les-Eaux reached its peak, and this precious manuscript may serve as an excellent witness to this. Prof. Lieve Watteeuw and Bruno Vandermeulen will study, conserve and digitize the manuscript. This project will be executed within the context of the RICH Project.

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