Vic­to­ria proves a master at choos­ing Al­bert’s gift

Por­trait thought to be copy is re­vealed as 16th cen­tury orig­i­nal – all thanks to its use of pi­geon ten­dons

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Han­nah Fur­ness ARTS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

AS THE solv­ing of art mys­ter­ies go, it is cer­tainly one of the more un­usual clues. But a cen­tury-old ques­tion over who painted a gift from Queen Vic­to­ria to her husband Al­bert has been solved, thanks in no small part to pi­geon ten­dons.

The paint­ing, Por­trait of a Lady and her Son, was orig­i­nally thought by Royal Col­lec­tion ex­perts to be by the mi­nor artist Franz Wolf­gang Rohrich, merely one of around 40 ver­sions he made in the early 19th cen­tury.

How­ever, re-ex­am­i­na­tion has now shown it to be a work by Lu­cas Cranach the El­der, the Ger­man Re­nais­sance master and chief artist of the Re­for­ma­tion.

The reat­tri­bu­tion of the paint­ing, which will be hung in Wind­sor Cas­tle from today, came about as a re­sult of care­ful sci­en­tific ex­am­i­na­tion.

Among the key clues was the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of fi­brous ma­te­rial used to strengthen the paint­ing’s panel, matched with other Cranach works Dna-tested as pi­geon ten­don. The un­ex­pected ma­te­rial is known to have been used in 16th­cen­tury glue to strengthen the mix- ture, coun­ter­act­ing the nat­u­ral warp­ing and split­ting of wood.

Cu­ra­tors at the Royal Col­lec­tion said the sta­tus of the paint­ing had been “im­me­di­ately raised” by be­ing from Cranach and his work­shop. One of the es­ti­mated 40 ver­sions of Por­trait of a Lady and her Son by Rohrich fetched £25,000 at auc­tion in 2014. A Cranach paint­ing can fetch up to £9.3mil­lion.

Queen Vic­to­ria had pur­chased the c1510–40 paint­ing for Prince Al­bert as a Christ­mas present in 1840. Her Ger­man-born husband was known to be fond of Cranach’s work, with 12 paint­ings from the master’s work­shop en­ter­ing the Royal Col­lec­tion as a re­sult. The dou­ble por­trait shows an uniden­ti­fied con­sort of a prince-elec­tor of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire and her son, in their fin­ery. De­spite Queen Vic­to­ria’s con­vic­tion, by the early 20th cen­tury the Royal Col­lec­tion considered the paint­ing to be the work of Rohrich, a pro­lific im­i­ta­tor of Cranach.

Find­ing no ev­i­dence of an orig­i­nal by Cranach to have copied, cu­ra­tors con­cluded the Lady and her Son must have been an in­ven­tion of Rohrich’s.

But with the aid of mod­ern in­frared re­flec­tog­ra­phy the Univer­sity of Ap­plied Sciences, Cologne, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TH Köln, was able to look be­neath the paint sur­face, re­veal­ing “pre­lim­i­nary un­der­draw­ing” thought typ­i­cal of Cranach’s work.

Anal­y­sis of the pig­ments, me­tal leaf and ap­pli­ca­tion of paint con­firmed it was made in the 16th-cen­tury, while an X-ray re­vealed the ma­te­rial in the panel.

Ni­cola Christie, head of paint­ings con­ser­va­tion at the Royal Col­lec­tion Trust, said the reat­tri­bu­tion showed Queen Vic­to­ria had been “ab­so­lutely” right all along in her artis­tic judg­ment. “We’re all very ex­cited,” she said. “It’s an ab­so­lute thrill. It’s sta­tus is im­me­di­ately raised.”

♦ A se­cret un­der­ground room in Florence where Michelan­gelo hid and drew sketches on the walls could soon be opened to the pub­lic.

Michelan­gelo sought refuge in the tiny cell in 1530, on the run from his pa­trons, the Medici fam­ily, for supporting a re­volt against their rule. Dur­ing his two months there, he drew sketches on its walls with char­coal and chalk. The room re­mained undis­cov­ered un­til 1975 and will be opened to the pub­lic “within three years” the Bargello Mu­seum said.

In the mid-16th cen­tury, around the time that Lu­cas Cranach the El­der was paint­ing his Re­nais­sance mas­ter­pieces, the Greek word for sinew, tenon, was be­ing mixed with a bit of Latin, ten­dere, mean­ing to stretch. The re­sult was “ten­don” – the per­fect word to de­scribe those bendy, flex­i­ble bits of pi­geon that Cranach used to strengthen glue and coun­ter­act the warp­ing of wood pan­els. Now those very pi­geon ten­dons have proved cru­cial in iden­ti­fy­ing one of the Queen’s paint­ings, Por­trait of a Lady and Her

Son, as the work of Cranach him­self, and not an im­i­ta­tor, as had been thought. Thus small things can have big con­se­quences, not least for the value of the paint­ing. Only pedants would point out that ten­dere is also the root of ten­den­tious. No one is stretch­ing the truth here.

Por­trait of a Lady

and her Son, left, was an 1840 Christ­mas present from the monarch to her husband, be­low. It has been ver­i­fied as the work of Lu­cas Cranach the El­der, rather than a copy as pre­vi­ously thought

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