An interesting news item cropped up in the papers just after New Year. A painting of the Elizabethan spymaster, Francis Walsingham, was found to have been painted over an earlier image of the Virgin and Child. The Guardian article, which appeared on 3rd January, suggested that the arch-Protestant Walsingham would have been horrified to discover that his image was floating a few millimetres above an overtly Catholic image.
Further correspondence to the paper the following day pointed out that the destruction of a Catholic image and its replacement with that of a Protestant campaigner would have delighted Walsingham – and I suspect this is true.
But how would an artist view this story? Well, a seasoned wooden panel would have too good, in material terms, not to have been reused. Any artist soon realises that painting over an existing image, which has been primed afresh, gives a wealth of interesting textures that underlie and guide the brush strokes. Also, in an historical period such as this, artists would have been painting out unsalable images and replacing them with saleable ones as fast as possible.
So I think what we’re looking at here is a result of a major cultural tsunami. A regime change has rendered a lot of paintings politically unacceptable (and therefore unmarketable), the ruling elite are leading a demand for images of the new movers and shakers, and artists have making the most of the situation.
The question is: how many more lost paintings are there under pictures painted at similar times. Quite a few, I would think.
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