Abildgaard was an internationally orientated Danish artist active from the second half of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century. He is one of the very few Danish artists of the 18th century with a stature in the European art history of the period and although he has been the subject of art historical research, a systematic technical investigation of his oeuvre has never been carried out.


Lead by

Troels Filtenborg, M.Sc. in Conservation, Senior Paintings Conservator



The objective is to throw light on his practice and possible development in the context of the contemporary academic painting techniques in Denmark, France and Italy. A survey of this kind could also contribute to a more precise dating of certain of his works which have caused problems due to a lack of archival reference and the fact that some paintings probably were signed and dated after Abildgaard’s death.


Description of work

Little is known about Abildgaard’s practice and materials. The written sources are scarce, and although Abildgaard was outspoken and expressed himself on a wide variety of matters, he kept the cards closer to his chest when it came to the technical side of his profession.

Certain stylistic changes in the production over his career may also be reflected in a parallel technical development. It is also a question whether a number of historical treatises on painting technique in his library indicate an interest in painting techniques beyond the theoretical level.
As a student at the Danish Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in the 1760’s and a pupil of Johan Mandelberg, who himself had worked in François Boucher’s studio in Paris, it is likely that Abildgaard’s working methods to some degree conform to prevalent French 18th-century patterns. However, a prolonged stay in Rome (1772-75) may well have influenced his technique. Abildgaard was furthermore a teacher for Eckersberg, and thus potentially in technical matters an influence on the ‘father of Danish painting’ with an indirect impact on other painters of the Danish Golden Age (read more about the project here).




Task 1

Examination of Abildgaard’s Architecture and architectural decoration

Collect existing data on the architectural decorations. Some of Abildgaard’s buildings have been examined by the National Museum of Denmark. The data from these investigations should be condensed, and supplementary examinations should be performed. The results should be put into an architectural and art historical context.


Task 2

The technique of Abildgaard’s easel paintings

Technical examination of support, preparatory layers and paint layers (pigments and binding media) in a series of paintings of different genres and dates. Comparison with results of similar examinations of European paintings of the same period.


Task 3

Abildgaard’s graphic works

Classification of Abildgaard’s works on paper on the basis of material content and technique. Identification of paper type, by examination of watermarks and fibre composition. Characterization of drawing technique and materials (ink/crayon/paint).



• Article in an international architectural journal with a technical and art historical review of Abildgaard’s  architectural decorations as seen in a European perspective

• Articles on and conference presentation of Abildgaard’s painting technique and its development

• Symposium on Abildgaard and his technique in a European perspective