In Search of Lost Scents: A PhD-project at the intersection of art history, museology, heritage and chemistry

With her PhD-project “In Search of Lost Scents” – a joint endeavour by IFF, Rijksmuseum and Vrije Universiteit – Caro Verbeek has broadened the understanding of art history as a visual affair by demonstrating that the (previously ignored) sense of smell played an important role in avant-garde art. By reconstructing and presenting lost scents she challenges existing exhibition strategies while at the same time offering knowledge that is embodied rather than textual. Her approach has brought together chemists, perfumers, artists, historians and psychologists with the aim of better understanding past and present ways of perceiving. Through exhibitions, lectures and workshops she made important contributions to the field of sensory research, sensory heritage and sensory museology. On a societal level Verbeek uses the senses as tools to enhance inclusivity in museums and to employ different learning strategies for children, grown-ups, and even people suffering from dementia. Her projects have reached thousands of people through platforms such as the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum and international media such as the BBC and the New York Times. Several artists and scholars have studied and followed her example, thereby indirectly getting an even larger crowd in touch with senses and sensory heritage.