Unveiling the artistic brew: Danish masters’ innovative use of beer byproducts on canvases

It was revealed that remnants of yeast and grains were used to create a smooth canvas surface. This technique not only prevented paint seepage but also showcased the ingenuity of these artists.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
View from the Loft of the Grain Store at the Bakery in the Citadel of Copenhagen

In a fascinating discovery, researchers have unraveled a hidden secret behind the magnificent paintings of the Danish Golden Age. According to a study published in the esteemed journal Science Advances, Danish masters of yore turned to an unexpected source to prepare their canvases: leftovers from brewing beer

It turns out that these artists were not just masters of the brush, but also savvy recyclers, incorporating brewery byproducts into their artistic process.

The study, conducted by esteemed experts including Cecil Krarup Andersen, a paintings conservator at the Royal Danish Academy, shed light on this unusual artistic technique.

Initially, the researchers were on the hunt for animal glue used in the paintings. However, they stumbled upon something entirely unexpected. Andersen remarked, "Then, by surprise, we found something completely different."

The remnants of brewing, including yeast and grains, were found on the canvases, indicating that these materials were used to create a smooth surface and prevent the paint from seeping through. In modern times, a white mixture called gesso is commonly employed for this purpose. 

Unveiling the artistic brew: Danish masters’ innovative use of beer byproducts on canvases
The 84-Gun Danish Warship 'Dronning Marie' in the Sound

By utilizing the byproducts of local breweries, the Danish masters achieved a similar effect, showcasing their resourcefulness and creative innovation.

Recycle and renew 

The findings of this study hold significance beyond mere curiosity. Understanding the composition of these historical canvases aids in their conservation and preservation. 

By delving into the works of two revered master painters from Denmark's early art scene, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and Christen Schiellerup Kobke, scientists were able to gain valuable insights. They examined small strips of canvas, previously trimmed off during a conservation effort, to analyze the proteins present.

Lead author Fabiana Di Gianvincenzo, a heritage scientist from Slovenia's University of Ljubljana, explained that the team discovered mixes of yeast, wheat, rye, and barley proteins in seven out of the ten paintings they examined. These ingredients happen to be crucial components in the brewing of a fine Danish ale. 

However, it is unlikely that the artists were pouring beer onto their works, as beer was a precious commodity of the time, even used as a form of currency. Instead, it is believed that the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, responsible for preparing canvases, procured leftover mash from local breweries.

This practice of recycling materials for artistic purposes was not uncommon during that era. Artists also repurposed bits of sails for their canvases and boiled leather scraps for glue. Historical records from the period even hinted at the use of beer products in the arts. 

Cecil Krarup Andersen emphasized that this research connects two integral aspects of Danish culture, stating, "What represents Denmark? Well, beer is one of the first things that some people think about. But then also, this particular time and these particular paintings are deeply rooted in our story as a nation."

The discovery of beer-infused canvases adds a delightful and unexpected twist to the story of Danish artistry. It exemplifies the resourcefulness of these master painters, who repurposed brewing leftovers to enhance their craft. 

The remarkable findings not only deepen our understanding of the Danish Golden Age but also serve as a testament to the intrinsic connection between art, culture, and the everyday aspects of life that shape our heritage.

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