Seeing beneath the surface at Knole

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

Helen Fawbert and her team at Knole have recently spent a day x-raying some of the magnificent pieces of furniture in the house.

The x-ray equipment being set up. ©National Trust

This was part of the conservation work being done in the Reynolds Room at Knole, which I featured earlier.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

X-radiography is a non-invasive technique that can reveal the construction, condition and previous repairs of antique furniture.

A torchère being x-rayed. ©National Trust

James Young of 3DX-Ray Ltd was called in to trial the process at Knole.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

3DX-Ray’s equipment is portable and can be safely used in situations where the objects to be examined are fragile or difficult to access or move – particularly useful in the context of historic houses.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

The resulting images were unexpectedly clear – and even beautiful in themselves – and revealed not just nails and screws but also layers of upholstery and even woodworm tunnels.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

These images will be part of the initial assessment of the furniture in the Reynolds Room.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

This will be followed by a physical examination of the pieces by a conservator, who will then put together a conservation plan.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

The Reynolds Room project will be used as a model for the conservation work planned to take place all over the house during the next ten years.

36 Responses to “Seeing beneath the surface at Knole”

  1. Alison Says:

    Wow that’s amazing – how interesting to see inside the objects. I hope there is a plan to record this survey on our Collections Management System.

  2. Blue Says:

    Absolutely fascinating! The legs and skirt of the blackamoor torchére is particularly compelling but all the images are beautiful – not the point of creating them, I know, but nonetheless quite beautiful. Has the National Trust considered selling limited editions of these images?

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Alison, a very good point.

    Barry, what a good idea – yes they are the perfect marriage between science and art, aren’t they?

  4. style court Says:

    The images are incredibly beautiful. Here tacks and horsehair look downright ethereal. Reminds me of LACMA’s X-Ray of a rug (Hali, a while back). And I think Barry is on to something — I can totally see designers snapping these up!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, yes I was remarking to someone that they have something of the stillness of early Daguerrotypes. I have just suggested to our Photo Library colleagues that they might be able to feature these images. I think credit should also go particularly to James Young of 3DX-Ray for the expert framing and composition of the images.

  6. little augury Says:

    I am in full agreement with Barry and Courtney. These are exhibition worthy really-such an exciting way to think about the pieces-and especially the blackamoor-he comes to life in a completely new way. Please stay on the idea of images- What a book this would Make Emile!

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gaye, a book sounds like a good idea too. From what I have heard from the NT Photo Library colleagues they seem keen.

  8. Karena Says:

    Emile I came over from Courtney’s and am astounded by these images. Absolutely fascinating details in these xrayed visions of historic pieces!


    Art by Karena

  9. CherryPie Says:

    Wow! that is fascinating, it is interesting to see the insides of the objects.

  10. hamptontoes Says:

    Absolutely fascinating! I agree, these would make for interesting images in a home or office. The anatomy of furntiure via an x-ray is not only very informative, it also has somewhat of a whimsical feel too!

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Karena, Cherie, Hamptontoes, thanks – yes these images seem to combine the exactitude of science with the romance of art.

  12. Alison Says:

    I agree with the previous comments – NT/3D-Xray should try selling a series of prints to places like Habitat/IKEA/Heals – they could be a really big seller

  13. Libby Hartman Says:

    Seeing beneath the surface is thrilling. I recently examined an 18th century oil painting, a potential purchase, under a strong ultraviolet lamp which revealed 30% of the painted surface had been restored or over-painted. No sale. These 3D X-rays of upholstered chairs are intriguing and artful but do set my teeth on edge just a bit.

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Libby, yes some of those large screws look a bit painful – and in fact document the somewhat drastic repairs that were sometimes carried out in the past.

  15. James Young Says:

    Very pleased that this exercise has created so much interest!

  16. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    James, yes and you are increasingly being appreciated as an artist as well as a technician 🙂

  17. Lanternativa Says:

    What an amazing blog! Thank you and cheers from Estonia! 🙂

  18. Jack Plane Says:

    Absolutely enthralling and highly artistic in their own right. I look forward to the book ‘The Anatomy of Treasures’ – or similar.

  19. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Lanternativa, Jack, thanks! I think my colleagues and I were surprised at the strongly positive reactions to this post, but that is the value of blogs, that it allows people to register their response.

  20. My Dog-Eared Pages Says:

    Just incredible! I will return to these photographs again and again. They are just beautiful. And I too, love their sense of whimsy!

  21. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    My Dog-Eared Pages, thanks, and yes they look a bit like Man Ray solarised images, don’t they?

  22. Lizzy Freundel Says:

    An incredible post. Thank you for sharing these ethereal images.

  23. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Lizzy, thanks. You, particularly, will know all about what goes on underneath the surfaces of furniture 🙂

  24. Andrew Says:

    May I recommend the extraordinary x-ray artworks of Nick Veasey, from flowers to vehicles (including a Boeing 777!) – see “Projects” here:

  25. downeastdilettante Says:

    Once again, I see that I’m late to this party—but oh how fascinating, and indeed, beautiful

  26. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, thanks – I didn’t know x-ray photography was a genre 🙂

    Down East, thank you too.

  27. John Scott Says:

    Very very nice images!

    Portable Xradiography could be a great tool.

    What safety measures are in place in view of Xrays radiating throughout the surrounding rooms?

  28. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    John, thanks for your question, I will ask James Young of 3DX-Ray to comment on that.

  29. James Young Says:

    John, as you rightly note, precautions have to be taken to ensure health and safety regulations are adhered to. This includes using the lowest power possible , ensuring that there is an appropriate sized safety cordon and being aware of what is going on around you at all times. In addition we have to be qualified as Radiation Protection Supervisors in order to do this kind of work. However, as long as procedures are properly adhered to there should be no safety issues.

  30. Tom Coggio Says:

    Thanks for the x-ray photos…:) I do a lot of this old school upholstery….Thank God for air staplers!! pre-made edge roll and curve-ease… although some times it has to be done the old way….:)
    tom coggio
    check my web site…

  31. Amy Says:

    The most beautiful part of the images is the way they give you a window into the original composition of the furniture. It’s really appealing to think I’ve seen nails and screws that were put in place by hands that are so long gone.

  32. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Amy, quite so: there seems to be some kind of parallel between being able to glimpse things that you normally cannot see, and seeing objects that were made by people who are no longer there.

  33. Bonnie Berry Goetzinger Says:

    Really beautiful…. a totally different way of looking at things. Would love to see these for sale.

  34. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Bonnie, thank you. I have just been told that the technology of these portable devices does not at present allow for high-resolution images. So sadly we will not be able to feature them on our Photo Library – perhaps the next generation of these devices will provide higher resolution. But a book or an exhibition may still be a possibility.

  35. Sandra Jonas Says:


  36. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Sandra – the popularity of this post has surpised both me and the colleagues at Knole!

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