Tudor and Stuart Paintings and Drawings at Tate: a major research project

Karen Hearn, Curator of 16th and 17th Century British Art, Tate Britain

Making Art in Tudor Britain Abstracts from Academic Workshops (2007-8)
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Tate's remit is to tell the narrative of British art from the 16th century to the present day. This means not only works made (anywhere) by British-born artists, but also works made in Britain by overseas-born artists. Tate regularly acquires further 16th and 17th century works.

The early works in Tate's collection provide a comprehensive survey of the principal artists, styles and subject matter of 16th- and 17th-century painting in Britain.
In some cases few other works by these artists survive. Most of the major painters of the period are represented, including John Bettes, Hans Eworth, George Gower, Marcus Gheeraerts II, Robert Peake, Daniel Mytens, Sir Anthony van Dyck, William Dobson, Sir Peter Lely, John Michael Wright, Jan Siberechts and Sir Godfrey Kneller.

There is also a full range of subject matter: history paintings (both classical and religious), landscape and topographical, still life, animal and bird, and decorative. For the 16th century the main emphasis is, of course, on portraiture.

Basic information on almost every item in the Tate collection can be found by looking on the Tate website - www.tate.org.uk. Previous printed sources of information also exist. For early items later to be transferred to Tate from the National Gallery, see the (un-illustrated) National Gallery: British School catalogue by Martin Davies, published 1946. Subsequent purchases were published in the Tate's substantial Catalogue of Acquisitions volumes - the last of which appeared in 1996.

Some Tate paintings also appeared in the Tate exhibition catalogue Dynasties: Painting in Tudor & Jacobean England 1530-1630 in 1995, which carried a pioneering section by Senior Conservator of Paintings, Rica Jones, detailing technical investigations into a small number of paintings in the show. Subsequently, technical accounts of some early Tate works appeared in Paint and Purpose: a study of technique in British art, edited by Stephen Hackney et al, 1999. A technical section by Rica Jones appeared in Marcus Gheeraerts II, which accompanied the small Tate Britain exhibition in 2002.

Currently, Rica Jones and I are leading a project to survey technically and catalogue fully all the 'Tudor & Stuart' period works in the Tate Collection. The resultant catalogue will contain an individual, illustrated entry for each of Tate's 108 early paintings; there will also be entries for the works on paper. For every work, new curatorial research has been, and is being, carried out. Each painting entry will also incorporate technical information about the work, elicited by investigative techniques such as stereo-microscopy, cross-sections, x-radiography, infra-red digital imaging, dendrochronology, and analysis of pigments and binding media. This work has been carried out by Rica Jones and her colleagues (and former colleagues) Natasha Duff, Kate Stonor, Joyce Townsend and Jacqueline Ridge. The technical investigations have been funded by a grant from the Getty Research Institute ­ this support has been central to the project. The form that publication will take is still under discussion, but it will be marked by dedicated displays and small exhibitions at Tate Britain.