A Scientific Survey of Our Early Collections

The National Portrait Gallery holds the largest public collection of Tudor and Jacobean painting in the world. The collections are one of the most significant resources for the understanding of visual culture in the English Renaissance. This research programme offers a unique opportunity to develop and share our knowledge.
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director

In April 2007 we began a major research project to help to transform understanding of early painting practice and the production of portraits in the Tudor and Jacobean periods. The project involved a detailed and comprehensive scientific survey of over 80 of the most important portraits from the Gallery's Collection in the period 1500-1620. 

The research revealed some unexpected information about some of the Gallery’s portraits.

See the research highlights See the survey highlights
Mary, Queen of Scots, by Unknown artist, circa 1560-1592

Why is this research important?

The last major body of research on these collections was published over 50 years ago in 1969 by Sir Roy Strong, whose catalogue Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, still formed the basis of our existing knowledge.

The majority of early pictures in the Gallery’s care are by unknown artists, and fundamental questions such as when, where and why they were painted still remain to be answered. Through the application of scientific methods, this project unlocked key evidence.

Based in the Gallery’s Conservation Studio, researchers used a combination of the latest scientific techniques, such as X-ray and Infra-red reflectography, in order to reveal new information about individual paintings and piece together a map of the different artistic practices, techniques and styles in use by artists working in Britain during the period.

Explore the scientific techniques