Back to Black

As of March 2022, the Museum Hof van Busleyden will be undergoing restoration. The permanent exhibition will therefore not be accessible for some time. More information .

From historic colour recipes to our contemporary experience of black.

21 June 2019 until June 2021 

Is black always black or are there different shades of black? Can you spot the difference between carbon black, super black and vantablack? And why do we call them this? Back to Black goes in search of the art-historical meanings of black, examining our contemporary experience of Burgundian black with the museum visitors. 

Colour played an important role in the status of the Burgundian rulers. At the time, black already evoked very specific associations, such as ‘prestige’ or ‘mourning’. The black, stately garments that prominent citizens wore in their portraits, that were painted by old Dutch and Flemish masters, point to this. Unfortunately very little of this historic colour knowledge has been preserved. We do know that colour was much more than just a visual phenomenon for the 16th century burghers. Manufacturing processes appealed to all the senses. The recipe books are resplendent with descriptions of colour, that fuel our imagination. But what did the expertise of these colour masters smell, sound or feel like? That is what Back to Black sets out to understand. What if we were to produce these Burgundian colours again today, to experience them much like the Burgundians did so many centuries ago? Can contemporary artists follow these recipes and achieve the same level of craftsmanship and expertise as the Burgundian artists? And could this inspire them to create new work? As is the case elsewhere in the museum, the emphasis is always on the dialogue between the past and present.

We examine painting practices of the Burgundian era, together with scientific researchers, artistic partners and the museum visitors. The emphasis is on the colour black, starting from the historic recipe books and Burgundian portraits, right up to the visual language of the contemporary textile artist Claudy Jongstra.


More Back to Black

Want to learn more about the fascinating research into Burgundian blacks? Throughout the month of October The Recipes Project will be posting a blog series written by participants to the project.




In collaboration with: the ERC ARTECHNE project (European Research Council), led by Sven Dupré (University of Utrecht & University of Amsterdam), the Heritage Department of the University of Antwerp, the Cultural Heritage Lab (the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands) and Studio Claudy Jongstra.