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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Revealing an (Anonymous) British Lady

by Serena Urry, Chief Conservator


CAMConservation , paintings conservation , British portraiture

This portrait of an anonymous lady by an anonymous British artist was so dirty that only the most basic details were visible before conservation (left). Removing the discolored varnish and much of the dirt revealed, for example, the black fabric of the lady’s dress is embellished over its entire surface, not just in white stripes, and the ribbons on the luxurious dress are deep green. The pile of red velvet cushions on the chair in the lower right shows much more clearly after cleaning, and so do her white gloves. 

Most importantly, during cleaning a very worn inscription was uncovered in the upper left background. Not easily visible even after conservation, the Latin inscription reads: Aetatis Sua 41, meaning “at the age of 41.” So, while we still do not know who this somber lady is, we now know she was 41 years old when her portrait was painted, rather an advanced age in the early 1600s. 

After conservation, the painting itself still shows its age, but now that the subject is more visible, we’re hoping to be able to learn more about both the artist and the sitter. 

Our anonymous lady is due to be hung in Gallery 205 the week of March 20.