Tickled Pink: Unexpected Discoveries in the Painting Technique and Treatment History of Pinturicchio’s Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (Fig. 1a-1b) was brought to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for treatment in the spring of 2016 prior to the painting’s display in the Madonnas and Miracles exhibition. While the painting’s condition was stable when it arrived, the varnish was dull and slightly greyish, and it was decided that varnish removal would provide an aesthetic improvement. Although the treatment was not particularly complex, I found studying the materials and techniques Pinturicchio used in this work and researching the painting’s treatment history to be a rewarding and edifying experience.

Virgin and Child dates to 1490-1495 and was acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1880. This work is only one of numerous paintings by Pinturicchio of this subject, with two of the most closely related versions in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Variations in the paint handling and quality of these works may be attributed to the involvement of workshop assistants.

Materials and Technique

Pinturicchio painted the Fitzwilliam’s Virgin and Child primarily in egg tempera, enriched with oil glazes and gilding. As was traditional in Italian paintings of this period, the flesh tones are underpainted with a greenish layer termed verdaccio. Additionally, dispersed pigment samples were taken from the Virgin’s robe, and the pigment was identified as high quality coarse azurite using polarized light microscopy. Unfortunately, the robe appears much darker and less three-dimensional than it would have been when first painted. As often occurs with azurite, the paint has discoulored from aged medium and varnish, and the paint layer has suffered abrasion from past restoration treatments. When initially painted, the robe would have been a bright blue and would have appeared to drape more realistically: examination of the painting using infrared reflectography (Fig. 2) revealed extensive underdrawing in a liquid medium, and folds in the robe were both underdrawn and possibly outlined with carbon-containing black paint.

Fig. 2 Infrared reflectogram of Virgin and Child (©Titmus)
Fig. 2 Infrared reflectogram of Virgin and Child (©Titmus)

Perhaps the aspect of Pinturicchio’s technique I found most intriguing, however, was his method of underpainting. Microscopic (Fig. 3) and cross-sectional analysis of the paint layers in the Virgin’s robe revealed a locally-applied pink underlayer. John Brealey, the paintings conservator who treated the painting previously, estimated this layer to contain madder – a red lake – although analysis was not undertaken to confirm this identification. This underlayer does not seem to have been modelled to any significant extent, since the radio-opacity in the X-radiograph is quite even.

Fig. 3 Microscopic detail of pink paint showing through the abraded azurite of the Virgin’s robe in Virgin and Child (©Rayner)
Fig. 3 Microscopic detail of pink paint showing through the abraded azurite of the Virgin’s robe in Virgin and Child (©Rayner)

The purpose of a pink or red underlayer in the mantle would have been to warm the resulting hue once the blue paint had been applied, as azurite can sometimes appear greenish. As Christine Kimbriel and Youjin Noh explore in “Sebastiano del Piombo’s Adoration of the Shepherds: On the Pursuit of Colouristic Splendour in a ‘Lost’ Painting,” it was not uncommon to find blue over pink or red underlayers in fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century Venetian painting.1 Kimbriel and Noh cite examples of paintings by Giovanni Bellini, Sebastiano del Piombo, and Giorgione with this type of layering.

In contextualizing Pinturicchio’s use of this type of layering, it became clear that there are extant examples of works containing underpainting of lead white and red lake underneath blue robes or sky from as early as the fourteenth and fifteenth century, including paintings by Giotto.2 Raphael, who came to prominence only a generation after Pinturicchio, is perhaps the best-known example of a central Italian artist using this method.3

Additionally, this type of layering was a common technique in the painting of frescoes. For example, a layer of red ochre underlies azurite pigment in Perugino’s The Circumcision of the Son of Moses in the Sistine Chapel.4

While the presence of this pink layer in Pinturicchio’s Virgin and Child was initially surprising, it became apparent through research that the artist’s technique follows a tradition of employing pink and red underlayers under blue for optical purposes.

Elisabeth Petrina, 1st year student, used the information and reconstructed this painting with historically-accurate materials.

Treatment History

It is not often that documents recording the historic treatment of paintings exist, but when they do, they can afford the opportunity to reflect upon past conservation practices and study how specific restoration materials have aged. This was found to be the case with Virgin and Child, which was previously treated by John Brealey (1925-2002) in 1964. Brealey was a prominent figure in the history of paintings conservation, and his ideas and philosophies have had long-lasting significance for the field. He was a member of the advisory council of the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the time he treated this painting, and he left London in 1975 to become the chairman of paintings conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The treatment report and photographs of Virgin and Child indicate that a good deal of previous restoration was removed by Brealey, but some old retouching and gilding was left. In Brealey’s words, “The gold hatching indicating the highlights is bogus, but has been left on because there must have been something similar on originally.” The thinking described in the treatment report is in line with Brealey’s well-known philosophy of selective cleaning. Ultraviolet examination of the painting (Fig. 4) confirmed that retouching from at least two campaigns of restoration were still present: Brealey’s and at least one previous restoration.

Fig. 4 Ultraviolet light photograph of Virgin and Child before treatment showing numerous campaigns of previous restoration (©Rayner)
Fig. 4 Ultraviolet light photograph of Virgin and Child before treatment showing numerous campaigns of previous restoration (©Rayner)

Significantly, the report also specifies that the painting was revarnished with MS2A®, MS2B®, and wax. Both of the MS2® varnishes are ketone resins, with MS2B® having a slightly different solubility and higher viscosity.5 The identification of these coatings accorded with their appearance, since synthetic varnishes can have a tendency to grey and dull rather than yellow like natural resin varnishes (Fig. 5). Knowing the materials used to varnish the painting allowed testing of the theory that the coatings should remain easily reversible over time. While they were certainly still soluble, organic solvents of a surprisingly high polarity were required in order to remove the conservation varnish.

Fig. 5 Virgin and Child during treatment showing varnish removal in progress (©Rayner)
Fig. 5 Virgin and Child during treatment showing varnish removal in progress (©Rayner)


In spite of the unexpected polarity of the synthetic coating, varnish removal was relatively straightforward except for within the Virgin’s blue robe. The coarse azurite in this area was found to be under-bound. This means there was a higher ratio of pigment to oil, not sufficient to fully coat the particles and bind them into the polymerised oil network. Contrary to the rest of the painting, the robe was cleaned using a quickly evaporating solvent on cotton swabs, lightly rolled over the surface, in order to solubilize and reduce the varnish without excess mechanical action.

Significant amounts of overpaint and chalk fill material had been left covering original paint, so treatment also involved reducing these foreign materials under the microscope (Fig. 6). Additionally, discolored brown material within the halo was reduced using aqueous solutions and gels.

Fig. 6 Virgin and Child before retouching (©Titmus)

Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the treatment prior to finishing my post-graduate internship in the summer of 2016. The filling, retouching, and revarnishing were carried out by the Hamilton Kerr Institute’s Director, Rupert Featherstone (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7 Virgin and Child after treatment: Virgin and Child (©Titmus)
Fig. 7 Virgin and Child after treatment (©Titmus)

Although I would like to have seen this treatment from start to finish, I learned a great deal from the opportunity to study this artwork. I hope this text provides some insights into the creation and history of the work, and that you will visit the Fitzwilliam Museum to see Virgin and Child for yourself!

Kari Rayner, 2nd year Post-Graduate Intern (2015-2016)

About the Author:

Ms Kari Rayner holds a Master of Arts in Art History and an Advanced Certificate in Art Conservation from New York University, USA. She also graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Art History, Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University, USA. During her graduate studies, Kari interned at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne and worked at Modern Art Conservation in New York, NY. Her final-year internship was undertaken at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and she completed a year-long post-graduate internship at the Hamilton Kerr Institute from 2015-2016. Kari returned to the NGA in the fall of 2016 as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paintings Conservation.

To contact Kari: rayner.kari.s@gmail.com


1 Kimbriel, Christine and Youjin Noh. “Sebastiano del Piombo’s Adoration of the Shepherds: On the Pursuit of Colouristic Splendour in a ‘Lost’ Painting.” In Artists’ Footsteps: The Reconstruction of Pigments and Paintings: Studies in Honour of Renate Woudhuysen-Keller. S.l.: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2013.

2 Sincere thanks to Elizabeth Walmsley of the National Gallery of Art, who shared her expertise in Italian painting and directed me to the following resources on the topic of pink/red underlayers. Borgia, Ilaria, Diego Cauzzi, Bruno Radicati, and Claudio Seccaroni. “Raphael’s Saint Cecelia in Bologna: New Data about its Genesis and Materials.” Raphael’s Painting Technique: Working Practices Before Rome. Proceedings of the Eu-ARTECH workshop. Eds. Ashok Roy and Marika Spring. Page 95

3 Ibid, page 95

4 Santamaria, Ulderico and Fabio Morresi. “Perugino’s technique in the Sistine Chapel: scientific investigations.” The Painting Technique of Pietro Vannucci, called Perugino: Proceedings of the LabS TECH Workshop. Eds. Brunetto Giovanni Brunetti, Claudio Seccaroni, and Antonio Sgamellotti. Pages 99-100

5 “Low Molecular Weight Varnishes.” Ed. Wendy Samet. Paintings Specialty Group Wiki, 1997. Web. Accessed June 4, 2017. http://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/IV._Low_Molecular_Weight_Varnishes

Grüße aus Wien! Vienna Study Trip 2017

During the final week of May 2017 the students and interns at the Hamilton Kerr Institute travelled to Vienna for our annual study trip. Two members of staff, Morwenna Blewett and Lucy Wrapson, joined us on the trip, and we are very grateful to them for organising all of the interesting visits that we had during our stay. Throughout the week we were able to explore the vast collections of artworks held by the Viennese cultural institutions, whilst also taking a peek behind the scenes through exclusive visits to the conservation studios at the Palais Liechtenstein and the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

The Albertina & Le Palais Liechtenstein 

During our first day of studio visits we spent our free morning visiting the Albertina: a building with original neoclassical interior decoration, which boasts a broad collection of modern art pieces. Whether your preference is Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso or the less-known works of the German Expressionist Karl Hofer, this museum has something for everyone. Until June 18 2017 the Museum is also showcasing an exhibition of graphic works by the Austrian master Egon Schiele: a must see for those of you who are venturing to Vienna in the near future.

Following a picnic lunch in sparkling sunshine at Park Burggarden we headed off to our first conservation studio visit at the Liechtenstein Garden Palace. To start off our visit we were given a private tour of the palace’s galleries by head of conservation, Dr Robert Wald. I think I speak for all of us in saying that we were blown away by the splendour of the palace’s art collection. With works ranging from Italian quattrocento panel paintings to large-scale tapestry designs by Peter Paul Rubens, the Princely Collection is perhaps one of the most thoughtfully put-together and well-preserved group of artworks that I have had the pleasure of viewing. A particular favourite was the seventeenth-century carriage that is on display in the main entrance hall of the palace, seemingly plucked from the prop selection of Disney’s 2015 Cinderella remake.

After our tour in the galleries Dr Wald took us to see the palace’s conservation studio, situated in a purpose-built adjacent building. Here we were introduced to the studio’s conservation staff and were also invited to take a look at their current treatment projects. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between the conservation practices of Wald’s studio with those commonly employed at the HKI. A notable difference was their approach to retouching, which makes use of gouache or watercolour base layers, followed by thinly applied glazes using pigments bound in an oil-resin medium. Although this method differs from the HKI’s use of egg tempera and Gamblin colours, we found that the Austrian tradition offered a comparable result, whilst also serving as an example of differing approaches within the western conservation world.

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Our second day included a visit to the conservation studio of the Vienna Museum of Fine Arts. We spent the morning exploring the collection itself, which was developed from the art collections of the Habsburg Family. This colossal collection is one of the largest of its kind and boasts works by Titian, Rubens and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I particularly enjoyed seeing Bruegel’s The Great Tower of Babel for the first time, a painting that I had long admired since my adolescent years.

Our tour of the Museum’s conservation studio was very interesting as well. Amongst other things, we were introduced to the treatment of a panel painting by Lucas Cranach, as well as a village fête scene by Bruegel the Elder. It was also interesting to observe the consistencies and differences between the conservation approaches of the Museum with those of the studio at the Palais Liechtenstein. A notable similarity is their shared preference for the use of natural resin varnishes, as well as the latter studio’s approach to retouching. Another aspect of the Austrian conservation tradition, which is less-commonly employed in British institutions, is the thinning of old varnishes, as opposed to their complete removal. The opportunity to learn about the conservation practices and traditions of another country was a fascinating experience, teaching us that there is more than one approach when it comes to restoring paintings.

 Institute of Conservation & Akademie der Bildenen Künste

Our final day of visits included tours of the two major conservation schools in Austria. The first was the Institute of Conservation, where we met with Prof. Gabriela Krist. The school offers a variety of conservation specialisms, including textiles, objects and metalwork, as well as paintings and polychrome sculpture. The focus of our visit was the paintings conservation department, although it was also interesting to see the types of objects that are conserved in the other departments as well.

Our second visit for the day was to the Akademie der Bildenen Künste. We were greeted by the head of the institute, Prof. Wolfgang Baatz, who showed us around the conservation studios. Like the Institute of Conservation, the Akademie offers courses in objects, paintings and polychrome sculpture conservation. However unlike the former school, the Akademie also has a wall paintings conservation department, as well as a newly established department that focuses solely on the conservation of contemporary artworks. The issues involved with dealing with contemporary art pieces were a particularly interesting aspect of our visit, as it is a sphere of conservation that we rarely get to deal with at the Hamilton Kerr Institute.

 Our Final Day- Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere

Sad as we were to be leaving Vienna after such a short stay, we decided to make the most of our last full day by visiting the Belvedere Gallery– home to The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, as well as an impressive collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. Needless to say, this last visit served as the icing on top of the cake- or the chocolate stamp on top of the sachertorte if you will. My particular favourites included Egon Schiele’s Mother with Two Children, a beautiful, serene painting that I feel displays the artist’s mastery of form and colour, as well as Klimt’s series of square-format flower paintings. The latter paintings are displayed in a room of their own at the Belvedere, in the section preceding the infamous Kiss painting. It was easy to feel completely lost in this room, as the paintings seem to project their subject matter outwards, whilst also drawing the viewer in, demonstrating Klimt’s simultaneous mastery of the surreal and the realistic- it was difficult to ascertain where the paintings ended and the illusion began.

To sum up, we left Vienna with our minds saturated with images of art and our bellies full of Wiener schnitzel, apple strudel and more than a glass or two of white wine spritzer. I would definitely recommend a visit to this gorgeous city to any art-lover, or indeed anyone interested in seeing a city that is full of history, quirky coffee shops and delicious food. Auf Wiedersehen Wien, bis zum nächsten Mal!

Emma Jansson, 1st year Post-Graduate Intern (2016-2018)

About the author

Emma Jansson graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2016, having completed the three-year Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. She also holds a BA in History of Art/Archaeology and Japanese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Emma has experience working in both private conservation studios in London and public institutions. Her most recent placements include internships at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as an in situ project at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Palace. She is also involved in the technical analysis of artworks. Her final-year thesis at the Courtauld Institute focused on the materials and technique of the Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. Emma is continuing her interest in technical art history at the HKI, where she is involved in several research projects, including a study on the uptake of artificial ultramarine by British artists in the nineteenth century.  

To contact Emma: ej309@cam.ac.uk

Madonna and Child by the Master of the Castello Nativity

In preparation for the Fitzwilliam Museum’s exhibition Madonnas and Miracles: Private Devotion in Renaissance Italy  paintings from the Fitzwilliam Museum collection came to the Hamilton Kerr Institute to be restored, including this beautiful and colourful panel  of the Madonna and Child by the Master of the Castello Nativity . When the painting arrived at the studio, the two main issues were a discoloured varnish layer and a very visible and irregular retouching covering the joint in the centre of the panel from top to bottom. This was my last project at the HKI; I left before I was able to finish it so Mary Kempski, Senior Paintings Conservator at the Institute, carried out the filling and retouching, bringing the treatment to completion.

Before treatment (© Titmus)
Before treatment (© Titmus)

The artist

Little is known about The Master of the Castello Nativity. He was an Italian painter, active in Florence and Prato in the mid-15th century, as well as a follower and possible pupil or collaborator of Filippo Lippi (c. 1406-69). He was nicknamed after another of his paintings of the Virgin adoring the Christ Child which originally came from Castello and is now kept in Florence [1] Around 30 paintings have been ascribed to him, a few of them show the same composition, as can be seen in the versions in the Uffizi, Florence and in the Huntington Library, California. All three versions have similar features: the kneeling Virgin praying with the Child in front, the star on the Virgin’s shoulder (probably Stella Maris), the veils covering the head and the hands of the Virgin, the gold decoration of the robes, the vegetation and the golden rays around the baby. The three paintings are of a considerable size and the one from the Fitzwilliam is the smallest.

The panel

The wooden panel (86.7 cm x 59.4 cm x 3.4 cm), most likely poplar, consists of two boards with the grain running vertically. At the back, the surface is irregular and shows tool marks from the initial preparation of the panel. The woodworm damage in the central section is severe and may well have weakened the panel internally causing it to split, a damage now visible from the front. The visible open channels from the woodworm activity on the vertical edges of the panel indicate that the edges have been cut off and the general size reduced at some point. The presence of six rectangular holes on the back could be related to a previous use of the panel, although their function is currently unknown.

Before treatment (© Titmus)
Before treatment (© Titmus)

The X-ray examination revealed the presence of an original piece of canvas covering the joint top to bottom and located under the ground and paint layers. It was common practice at this period to cover the defects and joints of the support with canvas soaked in glue before applying the ground layer. This would help level the surface and strengthen the weakest areas. Curiously, the canvas is missing just at the very bottom of the painting, but the reason for this is so far unknown.

X-ray (© Titmus)
X-ray (© Titmus)

The painting technique

The paint was in good condition, apart from extensive retouching along the split, as well as in the bottom corners. Based on the appearance and handling of the paint, the figures are most likely painted with tempera, while the landscape appears to be done in oil. The detailed areas of vegetation display very thick impasto. Upon ageing, the oil layers have become more transparent, allowing the previous layers of oil underneath to be seen, as is the case in the roses and the trees.

The gold, probably water-gilded, has been re-gilded in some areas. To recreate the volume of the curtain of the pavilion, dark glazes have been applied to the gold drapery, and some engraved marks (scoring and punching) were applied to give the gold different textural reflections.

The treatment

The work started with a full optical examination. Ultraviolet light revealed a discoloured varnish layer (probably a natural resin as it fluoresces in UV light, although not strongly) and a discoloured and irregular retouching covering the joint.

Joint before treatment (© González Juste)
Joint during treatment (© González Juste)

The painting was surface cleaned and the varnish removed. After removal of the top varnish layer, it was evident that there was still another varnish on the surface, in particular on the blue of the robe and the greens of the background.  A stronger solution was used in order to remove the last remnants of the varnish. The removal of the varnish layer also involved the removal of the majority of the overpaint, although there were remnants on the joint of the boards in the bottom right corner, and some across the red robe. These remnants were tough and probably older than the rest, possibly in a different medium.

The removal of old fills from the central join revealed at least three campaigns of filling and retouching, covering areas of the original, which had caused bulkiness across the join. The removal of the fills recovered hidden areas of original paint, which were in good condition.

Due to the uneven and dull quality of the flesh tones and the blue and red robes after varnish removal, these areas were examined more closely and samples were taken to try and identify the nature of this top grey layer. The study of the cross-sections suggests that the grey layer mainly consisted of an aged natural resin, too oxidised to lift off with free solvents.

The sample shows that the remaining varnish layer extended into a crack in the underlying original glaze, confirming that it was not original. The cross-section displayed below is a sample from the red robe after initial varnish removal. It shows the ground layer, probably gypsum with some black particles (1), a white pinkish imprimatura with a big red particle (2), a red glaze (3), and the varnish layer (4).


Cross-section from the red robe after initial varnish removal. (©González Juste)
Cross-section from the red robe after initial varnish removal. (©González Juste)

After several tests, it was decided that the painting could be greatly improved by removing this layer. As a result, this revealed brighter colours, such as the astonishing ultramarine blue robe and the delicacy of the veil covering the hands of the Virgin.

During dirt removal (© González Juste)
During dirt removal (© González Juste)
After full cleaning (© González Juste)
After full cleaning, before restoration (© González Juste)

The painting was brush-varnished and the losses were filled and retouched, and the area of damaged gilding in the halo was re-gilded.

After treatment (© Titmus)
After treatment (© Titmus)

Carlos González Juste, 2nd year intern (2014-2016)

About the author

Carlos González Juste has a B.A. in History from the Complutense University in Madrid and a Degree in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage from the Escuela Superior de Conservación y Restauración de Bienes Culturales in Madrid.  He has been an intern in the Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid), other Spanish institutions and the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge. He has participated in some traditional pigment making projects (“Cuttings: Mindful Hands. Masterpieces of Illumination” by Factum Arte among other projects). He is currently completing his Masters degree in the Escuela Superior de Conservación y Restauración de Bienes Culturales in Madrid and working as a private conservator.

To contact Carlos González Juste: cgjuste@gmail.com


Technical Examination of a Portrait of Thomas Sutton

This oil on panel portrait belongs to the City of Lincoln and depicts the founder of the Charterhouse, London, Thomas Sutton (1532–1611). The painting has been lent to the Charterhouse since the 1970s and was recently sent to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for technical analysis and study, in the hope of clarifying long-standing questions about its origin.

Figure 1. Thomas Sutton, Unknown English artist, 1622 (©Titmus/Courtesy of the Charterhouse, London)
Figure 1. Portrait of Thomas Sutton, Unknown English artist, 1622 (©Titmus/Courtesy of the Charterhouse, London)


The painting is attributed to an unknown English artist, but the date of the painting has been contested with two different theories as to the origin of the portrait. The date of c.1590 was suggested by Sir Roy Strong in the 1970s, and is based on the sitter’s age (Sutton would have been 58 in 1590) assuming that the portrait was painted from life. It was also postulated that the illustration of a cannon in the book, on which Sutton rests his hand, suggests that the sitter was at the time Master of the Ordnance (an office which Sutton held until 1594).

However, it has subsequently been suggested by the art historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, that the painting could have been a posthumous portrait of Sutton. Painting styles and portrait compositions do not change much between the late 16th century and early 17th century, making it difficult to judge on these aesthetic distinctions the date of a painting of this type. It was hoped that through technical examination, evidence of the painting’s making might come to light that could decide the long-standing question of whether this painting was a portrait from life or not.

During the examination of the painting, both under the microscope and using the other imaging techniques such as infra-red reflectography (IRR) and X-radiography, it became apparent that the painting has been severely damaged in its long history. These damages are old and hidden under several layers of restoration. It is common for paintings of this age to have suffered over time, but this painting is remarkable in the extent of the restorations currently present.


Thomas Sutton was an enigmatic and shrewd Elizabethan financier who amassed a great fortune during his life and became something of a myth after his death. He was known to his contemporaries as ‘Croesus’ or ‘Riche Sutton’,[1] and had the reputation of being the richest commoner in England when he died in 1611 at the age of 79. Originating from Lincolnshire, Sutton was a talented civil servant and made money from wise investments and purchasing favourable leases. However, it was really through his somewhat disreputable practices as a money-lender that Sutton accumulated and expanded his fortune.[2] Usury, while legalised in 1570, was not considered wholly respectable and criticised as a way of extorting money.

Sutton bought the Charterhouse in 1611 for the grand sum of £13,000 but died later that year, leaving an astonishing sum of money (some £50,000) for the establishment of the hospital and school in his will. This was not popular with Sutton’s heir-at-law, his nephew Simon Baxter, who, displeased with his inheritance of £300, tried to storm the Charterhouse by force.[3] After his death, Sutton’s will was published, and the astonishing gesture of donating almost his entire fortune to a charitable cause transformed the careful and private businessman into a Protestant saint of charity, hailed by the clergy as a ‘hero’, a ‘saint’ and even ‘the right Phoenix of charity’.

This fame prompted an interest in his life, and since the career of Sutton as a reclusive ‘usurer’ was not palatable to his fans, more exciting tales of Sutton were spread. He was even portrayed as a valiant soldier/merchant prince, who, through his thirty agents abroad and his privateering exploits at sea, contributed to victory in the great patriotic wars against Spain. While these myths have been eroded over time, Sutton’s final gesture of charity in the founding of the Charterhouse has certainly given this sombre character a place in the history of London.


The painting prominently displays two painted inscriptions and two coats of arms, all of which have been overpainted and are somewhat illegible in places. The two different coats of arms can be identified as Thomas Sutton’s personal coat of arms on the right-hand side, which was assigned to him after his death, and the Lincoln coat of arms on the left.

Donation Inscription blog
Figure 5: The ‘donation’ inscription in visible light and x-radiography (©Bayliss/Courtesy of the Charterhouse, London)
Restoration Inscription blog
Figure 6: The ‘restoration’ inscription in visible light and x-radiography (©Bayliss/Courtesy of the Charterhouse, London)

The inscription at the top, above Sutton’s head, is an unusual addition to a painting and refers to the restoration of the painting in the 18th century by the mayor of Lincoln. The inscription reads, “This Picture was Beau/tified & Refresh’d Ano/1750 George Ken/Major”.

The other inscription is harder to read as it has been damaged and badly overpainted in the past. X-radiography is a technique by which we can see ‘through’ the paint layers, or more precisely, we see the density of the painting mapped out. In this case, the x-radiograph of the painting shows the original inscriptions underneath the overpaint (see figures. 2 and 3). In the x-radiograph, the older donation inscription is quite clear and reads, “In honorable Memorie of this/famous & mor— benefactor/Edm. Blawe major in anno/1622. gave this picture”.

This inscription refers to the mayor of Lincoln in 1621, Edward Blow, but what is less certain is whether the date refers to the paintings making or whether it was added as the date the painting was donated to the City of Lincoln.


These inscriptions give an insight into the function and history of this painting as a publically owned painting. The portrait is in fact mentioned in a Historical Account of Thomas Sutton written by the historian Philip Bearcroft in 1737. He writes: “The Lea∫e of the Par∫onage of Glentham was bequeathed to the Poor of the City of Lincoln out of Regard to his Father(…) And in Gratitude for this Benefaction, there is now in the Publick Hall of the City of Lincoln a whole length Picture of Mr. Sutton, with this in∫cription, Effigies Illu∫t: Thomӕ Sutton Armigeri, given according to the In∫cription, in 1622 by Edward Blawe E∫q; at that Time Mayor, and beatified and refre∫hed in 1710, at the Expence of the Corporation, whole Poor continue to be Fed to this Day out of the Par∫onage of Glentham.”

Despite the reference to the portrait being a full-length, when there is no physical evidence of the painting being cut down, much of what is written by Bearcroft fits in with what has been deciphered of the inscriptions from the technical analysis. The incongruity between the dates for the restoration became clear when looking at the inscription in the x-radiograph, as the year originally read 1710 but has been copied incorrectly to 1750 (see figure 6). This fits with the name of the mayor, as George Kent was the mayor in 1710, rather than Edward Fowler, the mayor in 1750.[4]

Bearcroft thinks that the portrait was given as a response to Sutton’s bequest of the lease of the Glentham parsonage – i.e. as a gift received after his death. This implies that the 1622 date of the portrait’s donation also corresponds to that of its making. In addition, from what we know of Sutton’s life, it seems unlikely that a personal portrait of the man (he only became a public figure after his death) would have ended up in Lincoln, as Sutton had little connection to the city at that period of his life.


In addition to the historical evidence for the painting being a posthumous commission by the mayor of Lincoln in 1622, the dating of the panel using dendrochronology provides compelling evidence for this theory. Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is a dating technique that uses the pattern of ring widths within a sample of timber to determine the calendar period within which the tree grew. The results for this painting gave the earliest felling date of c.1605 for the panel. If time is added onto this date for seasoning and processing of the wood, it becomes highly unlikely that this painting could have been made within Sutton’s lifetime.

This date certainly contradicts the idea that the open book is an indication that this portrait was made to commemorate a specific event in his career (e.g. his leaving office in 1594), or that is was painted while he was still the Master of Ordnance. It seems more likely if we consider this portrait to be a grateful representation of a man expressing the virtues of Christian charity, that it eludes to his more exciting and respectable methods of making his fortune.


Technical analysis has been used in this study to clarify certain aspects of the painting and give weight and further evidence to historical theories about the painting. The clarification of the old inscriptions and the dating of the panel support has given credence to the theory that this painting was made in 1622, after Sutton’s death and rise to fame, and commissioned as a public painting by the mayor of Lincoln to celebrate a Lincolnshire worthy.

Sarah Bayliss, 2nd year Post-Graduate Intern

[1] Neal R. Shipley, “Thomas Sutton: Tudor-Stuart Moneylender,” Business History Review, Vol. L, No. 4 (Winter, 1976): 456-476.

[2] Stephen Porter, The London Charterhouse: A History of Thomas Sutton’s Charity (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2009), 9.

[3] Hugh Trevor-Roper, Thomas Sutton, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 14/10/2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26806?docPos=3

[4] It’s All About Lincoln, accessed 18/10/2016, http://www.itsaboutlincoln.co.uk/1701-to-1900.html

About the Author

Ms Sarah Bayliss is a graduate of the Post-graduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings at The Courtauld Institute in London. She also has a Master of Chemistry from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

To contact Sarah Bayliss: sarahebayliss@gmail.com

Madonna and Child, by Pietro da Orvieto

This 14th century Madonna and Child belongs to the Fitzwilliam Museum and is attributed to Pietro da Orvieto (1430-84). The painting came to the Hamilton Kerr Institute conservation studio in preparation for the Museum’s exhibition Madonnas and Miracles, which runs until 4th June 2017.

Condition of the Painting

While the painting was structurally sound, disfiguring and discoloured old retouchings were widespread across the paint surface, most prominent in the necks of the Virgin and Christ. The gilded frame and gilded background also presented a considerable amount of wear and abrasion, revealing the red bole and, in places, the underlying white gesso ground. When looking at the dark blue/black mantle of the Virgin in raking light, it was evident that considerable damage had occurred to this paint passage. The natural resin varnish layer had discoloured and the painting presented a dull greyish tone as the result of surface dirt accumulation and possibly the remains of a glair layer (an egg white varnish). During the treatment of this small painting interesting discoveries were made, such as the beautifully painted reverse, which we will share in this article.

How is the painting made?

This painting has been reconstructed by Anna Don, first year student at the Hamilton Kerr Institute. Her comprehensive step-by-step description includes many impressive photos, offering details that you might otherwise not see.

The support and frame

The painting is on a wooden panel (wood not identified) and is likely to be have been painted using egg tempera and oil glazes, mixed with dry pigments. The reverse of the painting was also painted using egg tempera, but with the exclusion of oil. The background of the painting is gilded, as are some of the details used for the Madonna’s robes. Its integral gilded frame is still present, attached to the front of the panel using nails, as can be seen in the X-radiograph image below. This is a rare find as frames of this type are often discarded having suffered too much damage over time through handling.

X-ray (© Titmus)
X-ray (© Titmus)

Paint layers

A white ground layer, probably of animal glue and gesso (untested) was applied to the back and front of the painting, as well as the frame. The infrared reflectography (IRR) image (see below) revealed the presence of underdrawing in certain areas of the composition, executed in a liquid medium using a brush. Around the figures, it is possible to make out incised lines etched into the gesso to indicate the areas that were to be gilded. The background and haloes are water-gilded in a conventional fashion and display a highly burnished appearance, whilst the decoration of the draperies was done using a mordant gilding technique. The haloes of the two figures were incised with fine circular lines with the use of a compass, while the decorations were made using punch tools.

Infrared (IRR) (© Titmus)

The flesh tones are distinctively Italian in terms of their build-up. The initial modelling was done using a green underpaint layer, known as verdaccio, which is traditionally made using a green earth pigment, as can be seen in the image of the Child below. This was followed by the application of the flesh tones. This layer was applied in fine, repetitive hatched brushstrokes, which is a common feature associated with the use of egg tempera.

The cleaning of the painting was carried out in several stages. The yellowed varnish, which extended from the painting onto the gilded background, as well as the old discoloured retouchings were removed. The upper image shows cleaning tests in the lower left corner, located in the Virgin’s headdress. This instantly made it easier to appreciate the original technique of the painting. It was then possible to remove an additional layer of grey dirt from the gilded background and from the frame mouldings, allowing the beautiful gilded background to shine brightly again.

A sample from the Virgin’s dark blue robe shows a build-up of two paint layers consisting of a greenish blue under layer with a darker, more intense blue upper layer, consisting of coarser pigment particles of azurite.

Sample from the dress, showing coarse azurite particles  (© van Dorst)
Sample from the dress, showing coarse azurite particles (© van Dorst)

The reverse

The painting’s biggest secret was revealed when the reverse was cleaned to uncover a colourful and decorative marble or porphyry imitation scheme, which is framed in a trompe-l’oeil stone moulding. This is a decorative motif commonly found in small scale, early Italian panel painting, but has been observed on a work by Albrecht Dürer. The painting on the reverse was completely obscured by the thick layer of dirt. To facilitate the painting of the straight lines that make up the grey borders, the artist incised the lines in the ground layer. The bright and fantastic colours of the reverse of this small devotional panel can once again be seen and admired.

Varnishing and retouching

It was decided to apply a protective and re-saturating varnish layer only to the painted areas on the front of the painting, but not to the gilded background, the gilded frame or to the reverse of the painting. This approach is in keeping with early Italian painting practice where the gilded areas, especially the water gilding, would have been left unvarnished. However, the painted areas on the front required a varnish layer in order to re-gain their saturation, whilst also providing an isolating layer between the original paint and the subsequent retouching.

After varnishing and filling (© van Dorst)The losses in the painted areas were toned with watercolour and glazed with Gamblin Conservation Colours. In the gilded areas, the losses were toned in a red colour, slightly lighter than the colour of the original bole.

After treatment, front (© Titmus)
After treatment, front (© Titmus)

Conclusion, come and see!

Written by Camille Polkownik and Sarah Bayliss, conservation treatment by Sven van Dorst.

About the author:
Sven Van Dorst graduated magna cum laude at the Artesis University College Antwerp (Belgium) in 2012, majoring in paintings conservation and restoration. The following two years, he worked on several projects at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and as a freelance conservator and painter. Sven completed a two-year postgraduate internship at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in 2016 and is currently working at The Phoebus Foundation (Belgium) as a conservator and researcher. Recently, he published essays on the technique of Antwerp flower painters in the Hamilton Kerr Bulletin and the Power Flower exhibition catalogue (Rockoxhuis Museum) as well as a piece on the 20th century Belgian artist Gustave van de Woestyne (catalogue: “Rooted, Painting Flanders”). In 2018, Sven will commence the treatment and research of the Dymphna altarpiece by Goswijn van der Weyden.
To contact Sven: sven.vandorst@phoebusfoundation.org


Reconstruction of a 15th century panel by Pinturicchio

This blog post is about the reconstruction of a painting by the Italian artist Pinturicchio, which depicts the Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist. The painting dates to c. 1495 and is currently in the Fitzwilliam Museum Collection in Cambridge.

Bernardino di Betto di Biagio, who went by the name Pinturicchio, is considered one of the more traditional Italian painters of the early Renaissance and is best known for his frescoes rather than his easel paintings. This is in part because of a crushing condemnation of his work by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century: “Often Fortune ignores the worthy and helps the unworthy, because it flatters her that by her favours there should be exalted those who would never reach distinction on their own.”(Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 25, No. 1/2 (Jan. – Jun., 1962), pp. 35-55)

I chose this painting because it came from a different period of early Italian art to the painting that was reconstructed by my co-student, Anna Don. I felt it would be good to be able to compare the two different styles of painting through first-hand experience of their preparation and technique. The lush green landscape and miniature figures in the background also appealed to me.

Virgin and child with St John the Baptist, by Pinturicchio (© Titmus)

For first-year reconstructions at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, we have the fantastic opportunity of having the paintings we are replicating in the studio with us. This is a huge advantage when trying to reconstruct  artists’ processes, as we can constantly refer to the original. Kari Rayner, 1st year intern, treated the painting in preparation for the “Madonnas and Miracles” exhibition.

Having now spent the better part of a few months with Pinturicchio’s Madonna and Child, trying to recreate how it would have originally been painted, I have been led to disagree with Vasari’s assessment of Pinturicchio’s work, and I wholly encourage you to go and admire the painting at the Fitzwilliam Museum where it is part of the new “Madonnas and Miracles” exhibition.


Unlike most panels made in Italy from this period, Pinturicchio’s painting was not executed on a poplar panel. Poplar was used more out of lack of options than a preference for the wood itself and artists would use other available woods such as walnut if they could. Adopting this view of accessible materials, the reconstructions were made on pine wood, which warped during the making of the reconstructions.

I primed two panels, one with canvas beneath the gesso ground and one without. Canvas on panels became less popular during the 15th century. However, the theory behind its use was to help cover knots and cracks in the wood and to provide a uniform surface for the gesso. The second panel was used as a test panel, which was invaluable throughout the reconstruction process.


The ground itself is made up of two parts. The first layer is Gesso Grosso, a form of calcium sulphate (for our reconstructions I used hemihydrate, better known as Plaster of Paris), mulled with warm rabbit skin glue which provides the bulk of the ground.

The gesso grosso was applied with a spatula. Taking some advice from a plasterer, I found it easiest to use a large spatula and apply the layers quickly. For my panel primed with canvas, I had problems with air bubbles in the gesso disrupting the surface. They were such an issue that after several applications I decided to wash the gesso off entirely and apply with a cloth and start again. The second time I applied the first few layers with my fingers to ensure that the canvas was fully saturated with gesso and this worked quite well.

The second part of the ground is Gesso Sottile, slaked calcium sulphate mulled with warm rabbit skin glue, that forms a silky smooth surface for the paint layer. To be more historically accurate, the sottile would have been scraped down until smooth and then rubbed smoother with the plant Mare’s Tail. However, as achieving this level of historical accuracy would also have required, according to Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte, several years of apprenticeship to perfect, I opted for fine sandpaper.

gesso sottile
Application of the gesso sottile (© Don)


The underdrawing was done by tracing the original painting onto a sheet of melinex (a process that is harmless for the painting but disconcerting for the tracer). Next, a  sheet of paper covered in charcoal was placed charcoal down on the primed panel and the melinex tracing placed on top. The image could then be transferred by re-tracing the tracing with a sharpened point. I finally went over the charcoal transfer with ink and brushed away the excess charcoal. This part of the reconstruction process was easy enough to do, but I was surprised by how much my tracing of the painting could still be identified as mine. I had managed to lose something of the character of the original and replace it with something of my own. It was a very visual reminder for me that this process, though historically informed, was not entirely objective.

Tracing and underdrawing (© Petrina)


Egg tempera, consisting of egg yolk and water, is a painting method that is often associated exclusively with early Italian work. It is incredibly quick drying, thus the diverse palette that Pinturicchio appears to have used for his Virgin and Child meant that a frustrating amount of time was spent grinding pigments into new paints.

The pigment that presented the most challenges to mix was lead white. Initially , it was suggested that lead white be avoided because of the associated health risks. However, I found that the titanium white I had substituted dulled down the colours and did not provide adequate coverage, which made me try out lead white under controlled conditions. I found that the flake white I was using was not mixing well with my egg yolk medium. This was resolved by adding a few drops of alcohol which acted as a wetting agent before mulling it with the egg yolk. Alcohol is not a part of any historic recipe I could find, but it is possible that the modern pigment particles that I was using were too small, causing bad dispersion behaviour. The lead white certainly acted like cocoa powder that stubbornly refuses to wet into the milk no matter how much you mash it with a spoon. The preparation of lead white was well worth the trouble as it was one of the nicest pigments to handle.

For the painting proper, I followed the advice of Cennini and began with a vermilion, white and ochre underpainting for the Virgin’s blue robe. This underpainting was visible as a discoloured red through some previous losses in the blue azurite of the robe. The purpose of this layer was to create a warm underlayer for the coarse azurite and prevent it from appearing greenish.

Underpainting stage (© Petrina)

I then started on the background, the next step suggested by Cennini, and the area that had first attracted me to the painting. On other early Italian paintings, there appears to be a very formulaic approach to applying colours, but no matter how much I looked at the landscape in Pinturicchio’s painting, I could not work out any order to his colour application. I concluded in the end that Pinturicchio was possibly a bit more experimental and might have reworked passages, overlaying different hues.

reconstruction midway
Second stage of the painting (© Petrina)

The faces followed the traditional approach to tempera painting, starting with a green earth layer and verdaccio that sits underneath the flesh tones of the faces and now, several hundred years later, is clearly visible through the upper layers of paint. This was followed by a build up of fine-hatched tempera. At first I found it very easy to overwork passages and on the face of the Virgin there are sections that have too many layers as I kept returning to tweak colours.

Early Italian pre gilding
Painting completed, pre-gilding (© Petrina)


Like many of the later Italian tempera painters, Pinturicchio also made use of oil glazes in his paintings. Red lake and copper resinate glazes were often used on red and green fabrics and draperies to create an illusion of richness and depth. It appears Pinturicchio used a copper resinate glaze in the background to create the lush, three-dimensional landscape, and red lake on the draperies to increase the illusion of depth. Despite having several shades of hand-made red lake,  I found it was the most difficult pigment to match.  It was too pale, leading me to believe I had done far too little modeling in the underlayers. I even tried to apply the madder in thicker layers to see if I could achieve a darker effect. However, this caused wrinkling of the glaze upon drying. I did eventually find a madder that was a much deeper colour and I managed to achieve something closer to the original intensity. The result was much better but proved that I could still have done more under modeling of the draperies.

Glazing the areas of foliage with copper resinate (verdigris dissolved in a oil and resin medium) was an exercise in working out how much modeling was needed in the tempera underlayers. My conclusion was  that maximum modeling should be done in the tempera layers and minimal modeling in the glazes, which I applied in thin layers to try and achieve the textured, almost impasto effect of Pinturicchio’s surface.

glaze texture
Detail of the impasto-like effect in the glazes (© Petrina)

Mordant Gilding

The mordant gilding presented a completely new set of challenges for this reconstruction. This was because the gilding had adhered over very coarse pigment, (high grade azurite) and/or over oil glazes. I noticed that in a small trial area, these painted layers had acted as a mordant in their own right and prevented the brushing off of excess gold leaf.

Mordant gilding (© Petrina)

Several treatises recommend glare (an egg white-based temporary varnish) as an isolating layer between oil and mordant. I tried a recipe which included some sugar in the hope that it would be easier to remove, and was fairly successful but there were still issues with removing excess gold. Many treatises recommend that certain processes should be carried out at certain times of year to allow for favourable weather conditions. For example, the gesso application should not be done when it is too hot to prevent cracking. I suspect mordant gilding over the glaze during drier atmospheric conditions might make a difference.

The other issue I faced was entirely my fault and could have been prevented. When applying the mordant for John the Baptist’s halo, I realised that it was indistinguishable in colour from the green background, which resulted in a halo that was not as perfectly rounded as the original and gave John the Baptist’s halo the illusion of trying to turn itself into a wizard’s hat.

Detail of St John the Baptist, gilding stuck in the glazes (© Petrina)

The final touch was shell gold added as a multitude of highlights to the landscape to create what Cennini refers to as, “a Garden of Eden”. It was unclear from the original how much of the gold was original and how much was from subsequent campaigns of restoration as some appeared very shiny. I therefore decided to add shell gold until a point I felt the image looked complete. This was influenced by working under the knowledge that the early Italians were rather fond of their bling.

Finished reconstruction (© Petrina)

It seems that in some ways, this reconstruction has been an exercise in exploring how Pintoricchio probably did not paint his Madonna and Child. This was one of the most useful outcomes of the reconstruction process, where discovering that a preconceived idea has not worked in practical terms, which allowed us to go back to the painting with fresh eyes.

The main result of this reconstruction for me was two-fold. Using (most of the time) historically accurate materials gave a practical framework to apply the theory we learn as part of the course. The other was less tangible but more profound. I gained a deep respect for Pinturicchio and other artists of the age. Throughout the process, the way I looked at the painting changed, and understanding a bit more about the framework within which early Italian artists worked only made me appreciate the achievements of their success more.

Now that you have seen the behind-the-layers of this artwork, aren’t you curious to see what it looks like on the wall? Come admire the painting at the (free) exhibition “Madonnas and Miracles” at the Fitzwilliam Museum!


Elisabeth Petrina, 1st year student at the Hamilton Kerr Institute

Elisabeth Petrina is the second of the new students. She received a fine art foundation diploma from Exeter College and BSc (Hons) in Chemistry from the University of Liverpool before disappearing to Croatia for several years to set up a forensic ornithology unit and grow vegetables. She has undertaken a project to establish a pigment garden at the Hamilton Kerr Institute that can be used as a research aid in future years.

To contact Elisabeth: ep497@cam.ac.uk

Conference Review: La Pintura Sobre Cobre, Paintings on copper and other metal plates

La Pintura Sobre Cobre: Paintings on copper and other metal plates

Polytechnic University of Valencia, 27-28 January 2017

The panel of key speakers at the conference. From the left: Isabel Horovitz, Nico Broers, Lydia-Chara Pavlopoulou, Anne Schmid, Jørgen Wadum and Alison Stock (© Chung).

The conference ‘Paintings on copper and other metal plates: Production, Degradation and Conservation Issues’ was held at the Polytechnic University of Valencia from the 27 to the 28 January 2017. The two-day conference provided a unique opportunity to explore and discuss the material history of metal-based supports, as well as their unique conservation issues.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Isabel Horovitz (The Painting Conservation Studio, London), a longstanding expert on the history and conservation of copper supports. Her talk provided an overview of the use of metal supports by artists in Europe. The practice commenced with the experimental adoption of copper plates in sixteenth century Italy, and continued even during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as seen in the work of artists such as William Blake, Angelica Kauffman and Lucian Freud. In discussing the history of copper supports, Ms. Horovitz also addressed the manufacture and preparation of copper plates for painting, including the hammering of the metal itself, as well as artists’ application of ground layers.

The artist’s process of making in relation to paintings on copper was further elucidated by Alison Stock (City & Guilds of London Art School, London), who gave a talk about her reconstruction of Hendrick van Balen’s Adoration of the Shepherds (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). The talk discussed the preparation of the copper support based on instructions derived from historic treatises. Through a thorough technical examination of van Balen’s painting, Ms. Stock aimed to create a replica with a similar material structure to the original work.

Alison Stock presenting her technical research and reconstruction of Hendrick van Balen’s painting ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ (© Chung).

Jørgen Wadum (CATS, Copenhagen) also delivered a talk that delved into the raw materiality of paintings on copper, with focus on the trade of copper and paintings on copper within the Antwerp market during the seventeenth century. Interestingly, Spain became a major destination for the export of paintings on copper, from whence they continued their journey to the Spanish colonies in South America. Although it was not speculated by Wadum, one cannot help but relate the popularity of these Antwerpian copper-based artworks to the comments made by Horovitz regarding the early appreciation of copper plates as a durable support for paintings. Indeed, when found in good condition, paintings on copper seem to have an almost ageless surface, as if it has “just left the artist’s studio”.

The materiality of copper paintings was also explored by Anne Schmid (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), who discussed the interesting case of ‘silvered’ copper plates. The examination of copper supports has revealed this rare variation, whereby a silver-coloured metallic layer was applied to the surface intended for painting. Analysis of these layers has shown that these ‘silvered’ layers often consist of tin or tin-lead alloy. Through her research, Schmid was able to provide a number of hypotheses regarding the purpose of these metallic coatings, with the most compelling conclusion being that the practice derived from the crockery industry in Rome where similar coatings were applied to prevent the green degradation products associated with copper objects.

Additional talks were also given by Nico Broers (École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc, Liège), Lydia-Chara Pavlopoulou (freelance conservator, Athens) and Laura Fuster López (Polytechnic University, Valencia). All three speakers focused on the physical and chemical characteristics of the copper support, as well as its interaction with overlying oil paint films. Both Broers and Pavlopoulou addressed the formation of copper carboxylates at the interface between the copper plate and ground layer. Such layers have been identified on a number of oil paintings on copper, which has led to the hypothesis that the formation of copper soaps contributes to the delamination issues often associated with these supports.

The final talk was given by Professor Leslie Carlyle (Universidade NOVA de Lisboa) during the second day of the conference. In her talk, Prof. Carlyle presented the results of two MA theses undertaken at the University of Lisbon. The first thesis was conducted by Maria Leonor Oliveira, focusing on the consolidation of oil paintings on copper. The basis for Oliveira’s research was an undated unsigned oil painting entitled ‘The Visitation’, which exhibited severe flaking.

In order to identify the most appropriate consolidant for her treatment, Oliveira tested several well-known synthetic resins (Paraloid B72, Mowilith 20, BEVA 371b and Laropal A81), chosen for their exclusion of water-based components. The adhesion of the polymers to copper surfaces was tested through coating small pieces of copper with the various resins, as well as attaching paint flakes to a copper surface. Based on the results of these tests, both BEVA 371b and Laropal A81 were excluded as possible consolidants due to their undesirable physical properties upon drying (BEVA 371b formed a very thick, soft coating, whilst Laropal A81 formed a very thin and brittle film). Out of the remaining polymers tested, Paraloid B72 was preferred over Mowilith 20, as it formed a film with greater hardness and tenacity.         

The second thesis discussed in Carlyle’s talk was the work of Daniel Vega, whose research centered on the development of an infill formula suitable for oil paintings on copper. Due to the corrosive action of water on copper, traditional aqueous fill materials are often considered unsuitable for filling on copper supports. For the same reason, beeswax-containing fillers such as Gamblin® Pigmented Wax-Resin sticks should also be avoided, as the fatty acid component of the filling material facilitates the production of copper carboxylates and thereby promotes further corrosion.

Vega explored the physical properties of various microcrystalline and synthetic resin mixtures in order to produce a filling material that had the desired characteristics in terms of both handling and reversibility. The results of the research showed that formulations made with Techniwax 9426 and Regalrez 1094 or 1126 had the desired qualities. Both components have an acid value of zero and are therefore likely to be chemically stable in relation to a copper support. In addition, both materials are readily available to conservation professionals and practitioners can easily replicate the recipes outlined by Vega. The research summaries presented by Prof. Carlyle provided clear and practical information, which will no doubt be of use to conservators dealing with the treatment of oil paintings on copper in the future.

In addition to the talks presented, the audience was also given short overviews of the posters on display at the conference. The posters presented a range of topics including the technical investigation of a number of artworks on copper, as well as specific conservation concerns. Sally Higgs (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) presented her technical examination of a portrait of cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle by Scipione Pulzone (Courtauld Gallery). Ms. Higgs evaluation of Pulzone’s portrait mirrored the observations made by Horovitz in her keynote speech; namely that the choice of copper as a support was a conscious choice made by the artist in order to create a durable, everlasting image.

Overall, the two-day conference provided a dynamic forum where the unexplored issues of metal supports could be discussed and future research questions could be posed. Our knowledge of the production, use and degradation patterns of paintings on copper has come a long way since the ‘Copper as Canvas’ exhibition was held at Phoenix Art Museum in 1998. However, perhaps the clearest outcome of the La Pintura Sobre Cobre conference was the need for further investigation into the physical and chemical characteristics, as well as potential conservation methods for this relatively under-studied, yet fascinating artists’ material.

Emma Jansson, 1st year intern at the Hamilton Kerr Institute.

Emma Jansson graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2016, having completed the three-year Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. She also holds a BA in History of Art/Archaeology and Japanese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Emma has experience working in both private conservation studios in London and public institutions. Her most recent placements include internships at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as an in situ project at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Palace. She is also involved in the technical analysis of artworks. Her final-year thesis at the Courtauld Institute focused on the materials and technique of the Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. Emma is continuing her interest in technical art history at the HKI, where she is involved in several research projects, including a study on the uptake of artificial ultramarine by British artists in the nineteenth century.  

To contact Emma: ej309@cam.ac.uk

Reconstructing a 14th-century Italian tempera painting

As part of our first year on the Post-Graduate Diploma at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Elisabeth and I were given the task of reconstructing an early Italian egg tempera painting. This year, there happened to be multiple, wonderful examples of these paintings in the store of the institute, which had just been treated ready for the Madonna and Miracles exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum; therefore we were extremely lucky to be given a choice of what we would like to reconstruct. I chose an early fourteenth century painting of the Madonna and Child with an unknown attribution from the Fitzwilliam Museum, while Elisabeth went for a much later piece by Pinturicchio (1454-1513), dated 1495, also from the Fitzwilliam Museum. By choosing these two diverse examples, we were able to compare stylistic differences, as well as changes in materials and technique over the course of the period within which these works were painted.

The Madonna and Child exhibits a range of beautiful techniques that I was keen to attempt, particularly the use of both water and mordant gilding and the fine hatching and punch work on the former. It is also a clear example of the brushwork used in egg tempera painting, with the short, hatched lines creating the impression of blended paint.

Madonna and Child, Fitzwilliam Museum (© Titmus)

Gesso Ground

The first stage in this project was preparing the support. It started with the making and application of the gesso ground layer, which appeared straightforward in theory but produced many challenges along the way. In preparation for the ground, the panel is first sized with rabbit skin glue to seal the wood and prevent it from absorbing the ground layer. The early Italian method of applying gesso ground is carried out using two different mixtures, applied in different ways.

The first of these is a coarser, thicker gesso (gesso grosso), made by mulling calcium sulphate (CaSO4) on a slab with warm rabbit skin glue. This is applied in a very thick, single layer. As the rabbit skin glue begins to cool, the gesso grosso becomes sticky and difficult to work with, so we discovered through practice that it should not be manipulated for too long. Once this layer was scraped back and smoothed, the second mixture was applied.

Making the gesso grosso (© Petrina)

This second mixture results in a much finer gesso (gesso sottile), and requires the calcium sulphate, soaked in water, to be stirred over the course of a month, followed by straining and setting into cakes. These can then be rehydrated and heated with rabbit skin glue to apply in multiple thin layers on the panel, which are then subsequently sanded to a smooth finish. The traced image was then transferred onto the ground using charcoal, and the lines strengthened using carbon black in gum arabic. To distinguish between the areas to be painted and areas to be gilded, lines were incised into the ground.

Water Gilding

In order to prepare for the water gilt background, bole clay mixed with rabbit skin glue was applied. It was difficult to apply in that some areas were continuously solubilised and picked up on the application of each thin layer.

Panel after application of the bole (© Don)

The bole was wetted and the gold leaf laid on top using a gilder’s tip. Due to the incredible delicacy of the gold, it often tore or crumpled in the process, so it required multiple goes to get the background covered. The gold was then burnished with an agate burnisher to achieve the rich sheen of the water gilding on the Madonna and Child.  After gilding, the hatched lines and rays of the Virgin and Christ’s haloes were incised with a pointed bamboo stick, as metal points broke through the gold. The punchwork was carried out by tapping the points of different shaped tools into the surface of the gold to create an imprint.

In retrospect, it was considered that the hatched lines could have been applied prior to gilding, however the application of layers on top of this hatching may have reduced the definition. Also, that two layers of gilding (time permitting) would have been beneficial given that medieval gold leaf was somewhat thicker than the gold leaf of today.


It became clear that the most important part of this process was to closely and carefully examine Madonna and Child, in an attempt to understand how the artist achieved certain effects, which pigments and tools he may have used, and in what order he carried it out. Reading appropriate treatises, particularly Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte, gave us a framework to work within, however there was much more to be gleaned from the surface of the painting.

To mix the paint, pigment particles were ground in water and then left to dry. This pigment could then be ground with an equal amount of egg yolk to bind it. However, this paint has an incredibly fast drying time, so it was made up as and when we needed it. I began with the drapery, building each section up in layers. During this process, a problem that I encountered was the inability to achieve colours with the same degree of vibrancy as on the original. This may have been due to some of the modern, safer equivalents of pigments I was using for this section. For the drapery I was using titanium white as a replacement for lead white, which had a dulling effect.

Detail of the azurite (© Don)

On the other hand, one particular pigment, azurite, was very satisfying to work with. The process of preparing azurite pigment results in different grades, where the coarser particles are more vibrant and blue, and the finer particles are duller and have a greener hue. For the Virgin’s mantle, an underlayer of fine azurite particles was applied. On top of this, the mantle was modelled using the very coarse azurite to give it the distinct blue colour. What I wasn’t expecting was how coarse these particles appeared on the surface. Due to the fragility of these particles they are often easily abraded and so this effect isn’t so extreme in many original examples, however seeing it freshly applied made it clear how this pigment can shimmer in the light.

After painting the drapery (© Don)

The next stage involved working on the flesh tones. A distinct characteristic of early Italian painting is the washy green earth undertone employed for the flesh, along with verdaccio (a specific blend of black, white and earth pigments) for the shadows. On top of this, the flesh is modelled, using short, singular lines to apply the gradations of the flesh tones. It was at this stage that I began to incorporate lead white as my white pigment, rather than titanium white, as I found the latter gave the flesh a blue-ish, dull look that the lead white did not.

After applying the verdaccio (© Don)
After finishing the painting stage, before the mordant gilding (© Don)

Mordant gilding

The final stage was the application of the mordant gilding over the painted areas, which turned out to be perhaps the most unpredictable and challenging phase in the process of producing the reconstruction. Mordant gilding uses the adhesive properties of an oil-based mixture to fix the gold leaf onto the surface. For this, my test panel was invaluable, as I needed to attempt many different ratios of lead oil, drying pigments and an oil-resin mixture (composed of linseed oil, mastic resin and colophony rosin), before reaching a combination with good working properties and drying times.

Mordant straight after application, it is considerably wet (© Don)

After painting out the mordant, it needs to be left for some time to reach the right level of tack (somewhere between one and three days depending on the materials in the mordant and the thickness of the application). I experienced the issues of both gilding on mordant that was far too wet, when the mordant itself smudges and the gold sticks to the surrounding areas as well; and far too dry, when the gold sticks to nothing at all. After multiple failed attempts, I began to form a better understanding of the drying time of the mordant. Laying the gold at the right stage was a distinctly gratifying experience, and resulted in a much better appearance.

The finished reconstruction (© Don)

Anna Don, 1st Year Student


Madonnas and Miracles Exhibition (video)

Anna Don is one of two first years at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. She previously attended City & Guilds of London Art School, graduating with a First Class BA (Hons) in Conservation Studies. She has undertaken an internship in painting conservation at Restauratie Atelier Marjan de Visser in the Netherlands, and has been involved in projects conserving frames, objects and historic interiors. Most recently, Anna took part in a four-month internship researching George Stubbs’s wax painting techniques at the National Maritime Museum, London, the results of which were presented at the George Stubbs and Wax Painting symposium in 2016 in London.

To contact Anna: ad838@cam.ac.uk

Uncovering vibrant colours through cleaning

Virgin and Child by Jos van Cleve is an oil painting on a wood panel that belongs to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The work was recently restored in preparation for the upcoming exhibition Madonnas and Miracles. The painting was in excellent condition prior to the conservation treatment, apart from a discoloured varnish that obscured the surface and dulled the vibrant colours used by the artist.

The Artist

Joos van Cleve (1464-1540) was a German-born painter active in Antwerp during the first half of the 16th century. His style can be described as a mixture of traditional Flemish and Italian Renaissance techniques. This particular painting, created between 1525-1529, is a good example of his hybrid style, as the traditional Flemish paint build-up and landscape contrasts with the Virgin’s sfumato shadows copied from paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. The subject of the Virgin and Child was very popular during this period and numerous versions of this composition exist by Joos van Cleve and his studio. The Fitzwilliam version has a peculiar detail, namely that the Virgin is smiling and her teeth are visible between her lips; a feature not usually seen in other representations of the subject.

 (click to enlarge photos)

The painting: construction and layers

The wooden support consists of two oak boards, quarter sawn and butt-joined using animal glue. The boards have not separated since the panel’s creation,  demonstrating the high quality of the wood and the expertise of the panel makers. We know that the panel had an original engaged frame, since a raised edge or ‘barb’ can be seen along the edge of the white chalk ground. This indicates that the panel was inserted into a frame immediately after its construction. Following this, the ground layer would have been added to the panel and the front of the frame simultaneously, leaving a build-up of ground along the inside of the frame.

A Flemish panel painting of this period would typically have been sized with a layer of animal glue on both sides, in order to limit the hygroscopic response of the wood. Following this, a ground layer would have been applied to the front of the panel in 1-2 layers and sanded to obtain a smooth finish. Northern grounds from the 15th-16th centuries are characterised by their use of animal glue and chalk (calcium carbonate), in contrast to the gypsum (calcium sulphate) grounds used by Italian artists during this period. The preparation of the ground was most likely carried out by professional panel makers, as opposed to the artist’s own workshop. Upon receiving the prepared panel, the artist would start by isolating the ground with a layer of oil (usually linseed or walnut). An initial design of the composition would then be drawn on top of the ground using a dry medium such as charcoal, pencil or chalk. In other cases wet media such as ink or diluted paint were used.

These preparatory designs or ‘underdrawings’ are often obscured entirely by subsequent applications of paint and are therefore invisible to the naked eye. However, the carbon content of traditional underdrawing media ensures that  they can be seen using infrared reflectography; an imaging technique that makes use of the longer wavelengths of infrared radiation to penetrate the upper paint layers and reveal the drawing below (Fig.). This method was used to uncover the detailed underdrawing used for the Fitzwilliam painting. Through scrutinising the intricate draughtsmanship that provided the basis for the composition Joos van Cleve’s mastery is fully revealed. A variety of lines were used to create an initial sketch for the composition, ranging from the curved outlines of the infant Christ’s flesh to the more angular and hatched marks used to indicate the folds of the Virgin’s robe.  In contrast to the detailed design reserved for the figures and drapery, there appears to be no underdrawing present for the landscape. It is possible Joos van Cleve had an apprentice in his workshop who filled in this part of the composition without the use of a preparatory design, as it was common to have students and trainees specialise in painting various parts of the painting.

Once the underdrawing was complete the paint was applied using very thin layers. The darker passages of the painting consist of several transparent layers painted on top of each other to give depth, exemplified by the folds of the Virgin’s robe and the darker tones of the landscape. Finally, the painting would have been finished through the application of a varnish, which most likely consisted of a natural resin dissolved in spirit or cooked in oil. The purpose of a varnish is to saturate the colours within the painting, creating a sense of depth, whilst also harmonising the various tones throughout the composition.

Conservation treatment

The initial treatment step consisted of surface cleaning to remove the thin layer of dust and grime that had accumulated on the painting’s surface over time. The varnish was then removed using organic solvents, which were chosen based on previous cleaning tests. The yellowed appearance of the varnish had a flattening effect on the shapes within the composition,  whilst also dulling the vibrancy of the colours. The removal of the varnish revealed a significant visual improvement for the painting. However, this was only the beginning. Underneath the varnish a grey layer of dirt continued to obscure the colours within the composition and its removal brought even more luminosity to the surface of the painting. In addition, a campaign of overpaint covered passages of old abrasions and losses, most notably in the red cloak of the Virgin and the tree on the right-hand side of the painting (these passages of overpaint are marked using red in the lower right photograph).

After the removal of the final dirt layer a very old, degraded layer of varnish remained on the cloth of honour behind the Virgin. It is possible that this localised coating was left by a previous restorer, perhaps due to the sensitivity of the paint in this area to organic solvents. The cloth, originally blue, had acquired a brownish-grey tint. Microscopic samples were taken from the painting to establish whether this layer was original or not. Examination of the samples in cross section indicated that the grey layer consisted of an old, oxidised varnish, as opposed to a pigment-containing glaze. The cross section samples further showed that the layer underneath contained blue and red pigment particles, creating an optical purple colour (see below). However, after cleaning the colour revealed showed a slightly more blue hue, most likely due to the photo-degradation and resultant fading of the organic red lake used for the optical mixture. 

Sample from the cloth of honour, normal light (©Polkownik)
Sample from the cloth of honour, ultraviolet light (©Polkownik)

Once it was clear that the uppermost degraded varnish layer was not pigmented, and therefore not considered original, we proceeded with the removal of this layer. The picture below shows the right side of the cloth after cleaning, revealing a vibrant purplish blue, while the left side is still covered by the discoloured varnish.

Fig. During cleaning, the right half of the cloth of honour has been cleaned (© Polkownik)

After the cleaning was complete, the painting was re-varnished using a modern synthetic resin that will not yellow upon ageing. The losses were filled using a water-soluble putty consisting of gelatin and chalk, and the fills were retouched using synthetic resin and pigments. All of the phases of the restoration, including varnish, fills and retouching are designed to be completely reversible, to facilitate their easy removal in the future. 

(Click to enlarge photos)

Although this painting came to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for minor restoration in preparation for an exhibition, the treatment served the purpose of uncovering the hidden  brightness of the colours, whilst also bringing forth the previously flattened volumes and shapes within the composition, most notably in the delicate sfumato of the Virgin’s face. The opportunity to restore such a beautiful and exceptionally well preserved painting was extremely enjoyable, whilst observing the mastery of Joos van Cleve in such detail helped broaden my understanding of 15th century Flemish painting technique.

Camille Polkownik – 2nd year Post Graduate Intern (2015-2017)


The Madonnas and Miracles exhibition (video)

About the Author

Ms Camille Polkownik graduated with a Master’s Degree in the Conservation and Restoration of Paintings in 2014, from the École nationale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre in Brussels (Belgium). She also has a Bachelor degree in the Conservation and Restoration of Painted Works (2011) from the Superior School of Fine Arts, in Avignon (France). She has interned in the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Belgium), the Royal Museums of Fine Art of Brussels (Belgium), the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice (France), at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) and in private studios.

Her current research projects include the study of extenders added to Prussian Blue from 18th to 20th century in Europe, while matching and comparing paint samples to historic sources, and the characterisation of an unusual form of lead white called “Prismatic Lead White”.

To contact Camille Polkownik: camille.polkownik@gmail.com

Sir Alfred East RA – Late 19th Century Landscape Painter

Self Portrait (©Kettering Art Gallery)

It is without a doubt that the artist Sir Alfred East (1844-1913), who was inspired by the Barbizon School, enjoyed the interest of the 19th century public.[1] The Times, for instance, referred to him on more than 500 occasions, and printed 11 bulletins describing his fluctuating condition in the month before he died.[2] Amongst various honours on a national and international scale bestowed on him, he was elected president of the Royal Society of British Artists (a post he held from 1906 until his death), received the status of Royal Academician (1913) and was awarded a knighthood by Edward VII (1910), but has since regrettably fallen into obscurity. Despite a slow start to his career, he was commissioned by the Fine Arts Society, to record the landscape of Japan over the course of a year. Subsequent travels he embarked on throughout his career to Europe and America yielded a vast collection of drawings, etchings and paintings in oil and watercolour. Before his death in 1913 East initiated the construction of the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering, Northamptonshire, that received a generous amount of his works.

Lake Bourget from Mont Revard, France (255 x 204 cm) before treatment, normal light (©Titmus)
Midland Meadows (162 x 218 cm) before treatment, normal light (©Titmus)

It is from this gallery that two of his paintings, namely Midland Meadows and Lake Bourget from Mont Revard, France, arrived to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for conservation treatment. The discoloured and disfiguring varnish layer on both paintings, was identified  as the main reason for the conservation treatment, although structurally sound, standing as a testament to his sound painting technique. Before the treatment of any painting, it is useful to conduct research about the artist and his painting technique, since it can often give an indication of the materials used by the artist. Nineteenth-century paintings in particular, frequently exhibit experimentation with media and layering that might give an unexpected and inconsistent response to the commonly used solvents for cleaning. Fortunately, in this case, the artist himself was rather keen on sharing his skill of landscape painting and how ‘to get the spirit of’ nature captured in a picture. [3] East wrote and published The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour, his own guide to landscape painting, in 1906.[4] This manual explains his painting technique, and even mentions the pigments found on his palette, including the exact tube sizes. Thus it unsurprisingly formed an invaluable source for the treatment of the paintings.  

From his writings it appears that he adopted a well established three-stage-technique that makes use of an under-painting, another layer concerned with the correction of values, and a final stage for the addition of details; all painted with lean oil paint. During this process he practically repainted the entire canvas after the first layer and then proceeded to pick out isolated sections that required further reworking and detail. In doing so, some parts of the second layer that were not reworked in the last stage, and are now part of what is visible in the version we see today. An example of such an area is the fold over edge of Midland Meadows that shows trees reaching higher in the previous layer.

Midland Meadows, detail of first painting stage, normal light (©Straub)

Between the individual layers, East added medium (or binder) to saturate his lean oil paint layers – a process also known as ‘oiling out’. [5] Favoured particularly in the 19th century, this method used a cloth dipped in a medium of choice (- poppy seed oil for East), and rubbed into the dried paint, before the next paint layer followed. Some cross sections of the painting appear to show a layer that might be identified as such, with a characteristic absence of pigment and ultraviolet light quenching that is to be expected (not pictured in this article).  

Lake Bourget left: at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1900; middle: published in East’s The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour in 1906; right: the painting in today’s state in ultra violet light (©Straub)

Not only is it possible to see proof of East’s described painting technique in his paintings, but Lake Bourget also reveals a significant compositional change by the artist that must have happened more than six years after it was first exhibited in 1900. Since the painting did not sell during the Royal Academy Exhibition, East may have been inclined to rethink his composition after a critic of his painting found that ‘his trees have had so much of the reality abstracted out of them that they cease to be interesting.’[6] An image of the same painting published in his manual in 1906 shows no changes. The first instance of alterations was registered by the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering who received the painting directly from the artist for their opening exhibition in 1913. There is little doubt that East’s reworkings happened before the painting arrived to the Gallery. In ultraviolet light it is also possible to ascertain some of the less visible passages he revisited, since they lie above the oiling out layer and therefore appear darker.

Lake Bourget, sensitive areas marked in yellow, normal light (©Titmus, Straub)

These areas also directly correspond to the passages that exhibited solvent sensitivity during cleaning. East’s described use of lean oil paint suggests that his mixtures were under-bound, meaning the pigment particles were not sufficiently coated with binding medium and therefore friable. Consequently the varnish covering sensitive areas was merely reduced and a thin layer was left in place.

Midland Meadows, during cleaning, normal light (©Straub)
Lake Bourget, during cleaning, normal light (©Straub)
Lake Bourget, detail varnish drip marks, normal light (©Straub)

After surface cleaning the decision to remove the discoloured varnish layer was supported by the fact that it reached into ageing cracks and losses, which means it is less likely that it was applied by the artist. Visually this layer also distracted from the composition with its drip marks in the sky.  In order to remove the varnish, small test areas in different coloured passages, were opened up to establish the best mixture of solvents for cleaning without affecting the paint layers. Usually the sensitivity of a paint layer corresponds to a specific colour or medium used in a passage. However, this was not the case in East’s paintings since the solubility appeared to be caused by underbound final paint dabs of varying colour. After cleaning an isolating synthetic resin varnish was applied, which is less prone to yellowing in the future than its natural counterpart, and the few existing minor losses were filled and retouched. To protect the paintings from vibration and environmental influences a sailcloth stretcher-bar-lining was attached. Moving and lifting such a large scale object, required continuous help from everyone in the studio, and framing was no exception to this. The gilt frame was given a few alterations to house the painting more securely (see the Weston Park in-situ post for more information) before the painting and frame were wrapped and transported back to the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering.

Midland Meadows, after treatment, normal light (©Titmus)
Lake Bourget from Mont Revard, France, after treatment, normal light ‎(©Titmus)

During the research for this project it was also possible to catch a glimpse of East’s meticulous character from his artist supplier account with Charles Roberson & Co, a 19th century colourman whose archive is housed at the Hamilton Kerr Institute. When he was sent a selection of brushes from Roberson, East rejected the majority; perhaps because they didn’t meet his standard.[7] He also appears to have repeatedly bought similar items from Roberson, suggesting that he may have had several specific colourman for different types of supplies.

Spending long hours in front of a painting the colours, lines and brushstrokes of the artist become very familiar. This direct contact with the painting was only furthered by the information that was gained about this artist and his technique, and made the treatment all the more interesting. Do visit the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering to see the actual paintings in their original exhibition space (due to their changing exhibitions it is best to inquire before a visit if the paintings are currently on display).

Michaela Straub, 3rd year Student


[1]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=05C02RhJZCkC&pg=PA360&lpg=PA360&dq=alfred+east+benezit&source=bl&ots=QKqmf09Oc5&sig=VU5GADli_TXiXvMjTq44kEfW0_A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjZ9eCVx5vQAhWsB8AKHTUqDv0Q6AEIQTAK#v=onepage&q=alfred%20east%20benezit&f=false and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_East

[2]J Paul & M Kenneth, Alfred East Lyrical Landscape Painter, Bristol, 2009.

[3] J Paul & M Kenneth, p. 25.

[4] A East, The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour, London, 1906. Further publications after his death include: E Bale & A East, Brush and Pencil Notes in Lanscape, London, 1914.; A East, H Cortazzi & Japan Society (London), A British Artist in Meiji Japan, Brighton, 1991.

[5] Oiling out is mentioned by several other artists such as George Frederic Watts in Watts, M. S. 1912. George Frederick Watts, London;  Gilman Harold (a new way of working that doesn’t involve oiling out) http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/sarah-morgan-joyce-h-townsend-stephen-hackney-and-roy-perry-canvas-and-its-preparation-in-r1104353; Lord Leighton (in a letter to Prof. Church he writes about using rectified petroleum instead of the normal process of oiling out) and is mentioned Leighton’s Painting process forms from the Royal Academy noting that for Daphnephoria he used Roberson’s medium for ‘rubbing in’.

[6]The Spectator no. 3750, 12 MAY 1900, p. 18 http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/12th-may-1900/18/art

[7]Roberson Archive: MS 121-1993, p. 197; MS 313-1993, p. 88.

About the Author:

Currently in her third year studying easel painting conservation at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Michaela Straub graduated from Aberystwyth University with a BA in Fine Art and Art History in 2012. She has undertaken internships in private studio’s, the Denkmalschutzamt in Germany and the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna.

To contact Michaela Straub: straubmich@aol.com