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National Portrait Gallery found portraits under paintings

The National Portrait Gallery revealed hidden secrets of Tudor portraits. Under a painting of the Virgin and Child they found an image of Queen Elizabeth I’s loyal spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. He was the eyes and ears of Elizabeth I and knew almost everything. However, it is most certain that he didn’t knew that his portrait was secretly painted over an image of the holy Virgin and Child.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery has a display showing x-rays of devotional paintings. These x-rays discovered portraits of two key Tudor statesmen. A Flagellation of Christs shows the Queen’s lord treasurer Thomas Sackville. The Flagellation of Christ was made by Sebastiano del Pombo and resides in the Borgherini Chapel in Rome.

The Walsingham and Sackville discoveries have come to light as part of a five-year research project, called Making Art in Tudor Britian, in which the National Portrait Gallery is examining all of its 16th and 17th century portraits with the technology that includes x-ray, infrared reflectography and dendrochronology (tree-ring) analysis. This portrait collection exist of 120 pictures.

The two Tudor paintings are a surprise, but the fact that such paintings are found isn’t new. In 2011 the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam found a hidden Goya paining of a French general under the artist’s painting of a Spanish judge, Portrait of Don Ramon Satue. The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts made a discovery under its 16th century Gerolamo Bassano painting called The Sepulchre: a detailed image of a man dressed in late Renaissance clothing with his hands clasped at his waist. In the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo (The Netherlands) an x-ray showed that Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses of Van Gogh was in fact a painting of two wrestlers.

But why were the paintings recycled? Is it because they weren’t sold or is it something else? That’s something the researchers are going to examine.

Hidden: Unseen Paintings Beneath Tudor Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 2 June