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

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 that will help to transform understanding of early painting practice and the production of portraits in the Tudor and Jacobean periods. The project will involve a detailed and comprehensive scientific survey of over 80 of the most important portraits from the Gallery's Collection in the period 1500-1620. We anticipate some important results.

Why is this research important?

The last major body of research on these collections was published nearly 40 years ago in 1969 by Sir Roy Strong, whose catalogue. Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, still forms 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 has the potential to unlock key evidence that will allow us to determine answers to these questions.

Based in the Gallery's Conservation Studio, researchers will use 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.

What will we achieve?
How we interpret our findings will be critical and we plan to share knowledge and expertise with specialists from the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. The results of this groundbreaking work will ultimately be presented through a significant exhibition at the Gallery to be held in about 2012, public lectures, seminars, case studies on the Gallery's website, and a multi-author publication on Tudor and Jacobean artistic practice.

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