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Pietro Vermigli

1 of 9 portraits of Pietro Vermigli

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Pietro Vermigli, by Unknown artist, 1560 - NPG 195 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Pietro Vermigli

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, transferred to canvas, 1560
23 1/2 in. x 21 1/2 in. (597 mm x 546 mm)
NPG 195

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Key findings: The current condition of this painting does not allow an assessment to be made of authorship.

Historical summary
The earliest known owner of the work was John L. Rutley, from whom the Gallery purchased the portrait in 1865. Its history before this is unknown.

Notes on likely authorship
Vermigli was in England from 1547 to 1553 but there is no evidence that he sat for his portrait during this period.

The portrait has previously been attributed to Hans Asper (1499-1571). Asper was a Swiss painter, highly regarded by the people of Zurich, where he spent his entire life. This attribution cannot be confirmed due to the current poor condition of the picture.

Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting was transferred from panel to canvas sometime before it was acquired by the gallery in 1865. An x-ray image of the portrait appears almost completely white and opaque. This appearance is due to a thick and even lead-containing layer beneath the upper paint layers, which is most likely to have been applied when the painting was transferred to canvas.

Much of the portrait has been heavily restored and may have been damaged by the transfer process. The paint on the hand on the left and some of the detailing at the lower-left corner of the book may be original. The face has substantial restoration, but some original paint is visible. The beard has much delicate brushwork. Some patches of the background are blue, and others are greener in tone. At least some of the background seems to have been painted with azurite; it may have originally been green or blue.

Justification for dating
The painting has been transferred from panel to canvas and, therefore, could not be dated by dendrochronology. An inscription on the portrait gives the date as 1560.

Drawing and transfer technique
The head, facial features and hands are heavily outlined in paint, limiting what can be seen using infrared reflectography. Some lines were visible beyond the ring finger of the hand on the right, which are hidden by the area of bright blue on the surface. These might indicate the little finger, but appear to be painted lines rather than underdrawing.

Relevance to other known versions
This portrait is a version of one painted type of Vermigli, which was also engraved (for instance in Beza’s Icons of 1580).

Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 319


X-ray 01. X-ray image of the upper-left corne…
IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
IRR mosaic 02. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 03. Lips, showing a small area of green…
Micro 04. Beard hairs over the stole and back…
Micro 05. Detail of the inscription and abrad…
Micro 06. Knuckle on the hand on the right an…
Micro 07. Detail of the lower-left corner of…
Micro 08. Index finger on the left - with res…
Micro 10. Blue line, possibly depicting a vei…
Micro 12. End of thumb on the right (10 x mag…
Micro 14. Detail of the collar, showing green…
Micro 15. Detail of the beard, showing layer…
Micro 16. Detail of the abraded and blanched…
Micro 17. Detail of stole, showing the most r…
Micro 18. Detail of the book, showing abraded…
Micro 19. Edge of beard, showing original bla…
Micro 20. Composition of the flesh paint (80…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…


The painting has been transferred from panel to canvas. It has suffered massive loss and a great deal of abrasion in the past, which has been restored. Some of the old losses equate to panel joins/splits before the transfer, and much was probably caused by the transfer process. The restored damage has resulted in a very uneven, lumpy paint surface. The hands and face seem to have ingrained dirt. There are no new losses or visible cracks. The retouchings are smooth and 'milky' in appearance. The varnish is matte and waxy-looking, but even. Some craquelure is visible, and much is painted on as part of the restoration.

The corners of the canvas are torn, but the tension remains good. The stretcher has two cross-bars, and all the keys are present although one (centre right, from back) is not secured. There are scuffs and marks on the back of the stretcher, and paper tape around the edges.

The painting has a large amount of restoration and overpaint, dating from different times. Documentation from the most recent treatment shows that overpaint was removed from the background, revealing losses where the panel joins once were, and much damage around the edges. These, and many other areas, were retouched. However, examination of the surface indicates that much more is overpaint, including most of the robe and collar. This must pre-date the NPG's acquisition of the painting in 1865.


Panel condition observations


Dendrochronology (what's this?)


An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.



X-radiography (what's this?)


A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.

The test x-ray image is almost completely white and opaque, although some losses and cracks are visible, as are the edges of the paint and the tacks in the stretcher. The white appearance is probably due to a thick and even lead-containing layer somewhere in the structure. The absence of this layer around the edges might indicate that it could be one of the original paint or preparation layers (see x-ray 01), but this layer is more likely to be related to the transfer process.

Infrared reflectography (what's this?)

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

The head, facial features and hands are heavily outlined in paint, limiting what can be seen with infrared reflectography. Some lines were visible beyond the ring finger of the hand on the right, which are hidden by the area of bright blue on the surface. These might indicate the little finger, but appear to be painted lines rather than underdrawing (see IRR mosaic 01 and IRR mosaic 02).

Infrared reflectography did show large areas of damage, particularly in the beard, book, and in and around the hand on the right.

Paint sampling (what's this?)

Paint Samplingclose

Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.

Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in 2008.

Preparation layers
All samples except sample 5 showed only the chalk layer beneath the surface paint. There is no evidence of an overall priming layer although some elements were blocked in, for example a grey modelling layer under the beard (see Surface examination).

The flesh paint contains lead white, vermilion and azurite and has been applied directly on top of the chalk ground.

Samples 9 and 10 showed the fur collar to be a mixture of red earth and black with small quantities of lead white, in varying proportions for the light and dark areas. The same pigments are used in the black of the robe: mostly black, modified with red and white.

The green noted in various places was sampled (sample 10) approximately 4 cm up from the lower edge, through the collar. This showed the green layer, possibly containing verditer and indigo, under the purple paint.

Samples 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 provided information about the background. Analysis showed that the bright blue pigment in the background is azurite (this is also the pigment in the strip around the sitter's hand). The azurite varies in quality.

Amongst the blue uppermost layer were some colourless glass-like particles, and in a dispersion, polarised light microscopy suggested that these were smalt. This is mixed in with the azurite rather than added as a separate layer.

Other Observations
Sample 5 showed a complicated and confusing structure.
Orange appears to be present in at least one part of the background, and green paint is evident in various places beneath the costume and sometimes seems to be on the surface (noted also in Surface examination).

One of the sample sites, and a cross-section of sample 5 showed a layer structure of:
- surface paint of background (azurite and smalt)
- layer of chalk - presumably the original ground layer of the panel painting
- thick pale orange layer of lead white and red lead
- possible layer of red lead

There is a marked line between the upper orange layer and the chalk, and part of the layer has pushed up into a dirt-filled crack in the chalk. Both of these confirm that the orange layers are not part of the original painting. These orange layers were not noted on other samples.

Surface examination (what's this?)

Surface Examinationclose

An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.

Painting style and method
Observing the original technique, and drawing conclusions from examination of the surface, was complicated by the wholesale restoration, which appears to have been carried out on different occasions, some of it a long time ago. Areas of original paint are visible in the hands, face, book and background, but the stole/collar and black robe are probably almost entirely restoration. The background has been very rubbed, and restoration has attempted to integrate some of the worst areas, but the paint is very thin. A lot of the visible surface definitely pre-dates the most recent restoration, but is probably not original.

Preparation layers
The abraded background has revealed an underlayer that might be a buff/off-white priming, although the only underlayer found in the samples (apart from sample 5) was chalk (see Paint sampling).

Paint layer structure
Face and hands, beard
The face has substantial restoration, but some original paint is visible. The flesh paint contains red, white and black pigments, and some azurite (see micro 20). Under magnification, small orange/red particles, larger and less orange red particles, and glassy inclusions can be seen in the paint of the thumb on the right (see micro 12). The hand on the right has a lot of restoration, that on the left has less. Both hands and the face have dirt and possibly old varnish residues embedded in the texture of the brushstrokes (see micro 08 and micro 12). The blue line on the hand on the left - possibly depicting a vein - is painted with azurite (see micro 10) and there is a high proportion of azurite in the flesh paint. Although this line seems to go over a damage, this could be because the surface has been crushed inwards; the blue is not present across other losses. The beard has been painted by laying in a general shape in solid grey, around which the black robe was painted (although it is difficult to see if this was the original order because of the overpaint). Delicate white/grey curving lines then link the two areas. Many of these are restoration, but some seem to retain parts of original paint (see micro 04, micro 15 and micro 19). There is blue pigment in the eyes, which is almost certainly azurite (not sampled).

The hat is very dense, and probably completely overpainted. The black robe also appears almost completely overpainted, but at the edge of the beard a small area of rich black is visible, which extends under the restoration and so is probably the original paint of the robe (see micro 19). It is difficult to see the sequence of painting in the fur collar, although the most recent restoration can be seen under magnification (see micro 17).

The book is abraded and restored (see micro 06), but sections of craquelure in the original paint can be seen. In the yellow section, it can be seen that the original paint has been rubbed/abraded (see micro 18). This yellow paint contains lead-tin yellow.

There are lots of small lead soaps in the original paint layers, which can be seen in the red paint of the book. Original paint is difficult to find in the book, but is visible amongst a lot of quite well matched glaze-like restoration. The original red paint is very orange, but with some larger red particles also visible under magnification. White soaps are apparent throughout. Some of the detailing at the lower-left corner of the book might be original. The dark band, where it meets the lower edge of the book, appears riddled with holes at high magnification (see micro 07). These could be where lead soaps have been dislodged by abrasion. The darker (brown/red) paint of these patterns seems to contain red lake. Lots of lead soaps can be seen in the page ends (yellow section) of the book.

Background and inscriptions
Some patches of the background are blue, and others are more green in tone. At least some of the background seems to have been painted with azurite (see micro 05 and micro 16) (see also Paint sampling). Damage just to the right of the eye on the right might show what the background was like: it seems that this edge of the face was painted over the background, preserving it, and a loss to the upper layers has revealed a bright blue. There is some green near the panel edge at the far left of the black robe, where it meets the background. This green seems to have been protected and is bright. However, this could be an early restoration layer. A bright blue patch around the figure's left hand is azurite. It is assumed that this is overpaint, but it is not clear why it has been made so prominent (see micro 06). Lines in the background give the effect of sweeping, criss-crossing brushstrokes - this could be associated with the priming layer or ground.

The inscriptions are not as worn as the background, but are abraded and have been restored (see micro 05). The paint for both inscriptions contains lead-tin yellow. Some of the crack patterns in the lettering are different from those in the surrounding paint, but this is probably due to the different drying time of the lead-tin yellow rather than suggesting a later date of application.

Other observations
There are specks of green paint visible in various places across the surface - in some places these seem to be below other layers, and in others they seem to be specks that have landed on the surface. The green was observed in a loss in the moustache and in parts of the beard (see micro 03 and micro 15), in a loss towards the left edge of the white collar (see micro 14), and in places throughout the fur collar. Green is also visible at the lower edge of the pages of the book. (See Paint sampling for further details).

Lead white, vermilion, azurite, smalt, black, red ochre

Ultra violet examination (what's this?)

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

The extensive restoration shows up clearly in ultra violet light: the retouching from the most recent restoration appears very dark. There are large patches around the edges and in the corners, where the panel joins once were, and extensively in the face, costume and book. No restoration from before this was revealed by ultra violet light (see UV 01). The areas of costume between these dark patches have a streaky fluorescence - possibly remnants of earlier varnish. The hat fluoresces blueish, and there is a vertical stripe of milky blueish fluorescence just below the beard. The background appears cloudy, opaque and greenish in ultra violet light.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Late 19th century.