Highlights from the survey

Mary, Queen of Scots
by Unknown artist
circa 1560-1592
NPG 1766

Mary, Queen of Scots before conservationPreviously thought to be an eighteenth-century copy, this small panel painting of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) had been obscured by later over painting. The picture was first acquired in 1916 but was no longer on public display.

As part of an initial trial of different scientific techniques the picture was examined using dendrochronology (a technique for dating wooden panels by counting tree rings). The results indicated that the picture was painted between 1560-92, making it almost certain that the portrait dates from Mary's lifetime or just after her death.

Subsequent conservation and removal of the later over paint revealed an oval surround and inscription, 'MARIA SCOTIAE'. These spectacular findings were published in the national papers in August 2006 and after nearly forty years in storage the painting is now on display in the Tudor Galleries.


Queen Elizabeth I
by Unknown continental artist
circa 1575
NPG 2082

Queen Elizabeth I infrared photographyDuring her long reign, many portraits of Elizabeth I were produced, however she rarely sat for portraits from life. This painting is known as the 'Darnley Portrait', after a previous owner, and is one of the most accomplished portraits of Queen Elizabeth in existence.

Infrared photography (left) revealed considerable freehand under-drawing around the hands and face. The highly sketchy quality of this drawing, and the energy and vigour behind the marks, indicate that this portrait may have been painted form life, probably by an artist trained outside England, perhaps from Italy.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
circa 1575
NPG 447

Earl of Leicester infrared photographyLeicester was Elizabeth I's only serious English suitor, and he remained her favourite throughout his life. A number of contemporary portraits of Leicester still exist, and he was particularly interested in his own image. He is shown here in a brilliant red suit wearing the badge of the Order of the Garter.

The results of infrared photography (left) showed significant under-drawing across the face and hands. There is also evidence that this painting has been cut down from a larger panel, possibly a full or three-quarter-length picture. More research and further technical analysis may help to reveal the exact date and provide a better indication of authorship.