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Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Massacre of the Innocents, c.1565-7

Close examination of objects in the Royal Collection reveals unexpected details

Nainsukh family workshop

Hiranyakashipu conquers all the world's territories c. 1775 - c. 1790

RCIN 925231

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An infrared camera allowed paper conservators to look through the surface of a set of 200-year-old Indian paintings (of which this is one) to see glimpses of the artists’ preliminary drawings. The paintings tell a story from the Bhagavata Purana, a Hindu epic text that narrates stories of the avatars of Vishnu. The infrared photography revealed painstakingly constructed guidelines to ensure the geometrical accuracy of background architecture, and significant changes to the compositions at different stages of the drawing and painting process. The empty space at the centre of the battlefield was once filled with demon warriors fully armed with spears, bows and tridents. Being able to see the evolution of the artists’ ideas on these sheets of paper confirms them as original compositions rather than typical scenes. It also gives us an insight into the artists’ labour to find the clearest expression of their ideas, belied by the easy humour and surface polish of the finished paintings.