It's often taken for granted that the final image on a dried, painted canvas is wholly representative of an artwork in its most unsullied and purest form. What's lesser known is that in many cases, beneath the layers of gloss medium, fixative, and oil—like the carbon found in ice cores and the rings of log rounds—the secrets behind their creators' processes and original intentions can often be found beneath their final veneers. One iOS app, designed exclusively for Spain's fabled Museo del Prado, is allowing audiences the opportunity to see beneath the surfaces of paintings by Goya, Rembrandt, Velásquez, and 11 others, using a combination of X-Ray, infrared, and augmented reality techniques.
Second Canvas, designed by Madpixel, is allowing visitors of the historically-contested museum as-of-yet unparallelled access into fourteen well-known classical masterpieces, providing the sort of behind-the-scenes information that one might only learn from a guided tour and/or years of research into art history. The immersive app allows users to zoom in on incredibly fine details, to view maps of paintings in terms of applied layers of paint, to explore "secret" and omitted details, and even to share new finds via it's social media interface.
Below, X-Ray imaging of Rogier van der Wyden's Descent From the Cross reveals that John The Baptist once sported a trickle of blood running down his neck:
Second Canvas' infrared scanning feature strips images down to their barest, originally-intended, and most unrefined forms:
The app even features the ability for art lovers to connect their devices to big screens, allowing even deeper exploration from home. Says Museo del Prado deputy director Gabriele Finaldi, “Some people will never visit the Prado Museum, it might not be possible. But this is a very special way for them to know what our gallery offers, and we feel the new technology can contribute very significantly to that."
It's both consoling and deserving of deeper exploration to learn that even the Great Masters made mistakes and omitted details they once intended. Either way, Second Canvas is definitely something we'd like to see expanded to more museums and galleries across the globe.