The study of the painting techniques and materials used throughout history in various cultures is, by nature, an interdisciplinary exercise. This symposium—organized by the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the Art History Institute of the University of Leiden, and the Art Historical Department of the Central Research Laboratory for Objects and Science, Amsterdam—brought together specialists working in the fields of historical painting techniques (including wall paintings and polychrome sculpture), painting materials, and studio practice.

Topics addressed included art historical research and scientific analyses of original techniques and materials, as well as historical sources, such as medieval treatises and descriptions of painting techniques in historical literature. Contributors presented papers on medieval gesso grounds; the medieval production of icons in the Nile Valley; the painting methods of Mantegna, Titian, Rembrandt and Vermeer; Dutch 17th-century landscape painting; wall paintings in English churches; the materials and techniques of James McNeill Whistler; Chinese paintings on paper and canvas; and Tibetan thangkas.

In the past, such studies were sometimes conducted with little interaction between art historians, conservators, materials scientists and historians of science—each discipline presented the results of its studies to different forums. The Leiden symposium attempted to present different approaches to the study of historical painting techniques to encourage an interdisciplinary perspective. Information about painting techniques can be gained in a variety of ways, including the chemical or physical analyses of the materials found in the paintings. Analyses of a large number of paintings attributed to certain regions, schools, workshops, or individual masters contribute to a history of painting techniques. Analytical results can also help art historians assess attributions and can support or reject their hypotheses.

The conference proceedings, Historical Painting Techniques, Materials, and Studio Practice, were subsequently published by the GCI.