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Wrinkles and Missing Teeth

February 12th, 2010

Wrinkles and Missing Teeth: An Exciting Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I under Closer Inspection

Nicole Wittig

February 12, 2010 a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Joyner Library.  Dr. Tise of East Carolina University’s History Department and  Horace Whitfield executive director of Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, North Carolina initiated a cooperative project to determine the origin of this portrait after speculation arose that it could date to the late 1500s.


Figure I: Dr. Tise and Horace Whitfield with the queen’s portrait.

The piece is an oil painting on wood paneling.  It is mounted in a heavy frame, potentially the original, painted black.  The artist depicted the queen at an advanced age.  Her skin is wrinkled, and according to physical anthropologists, she would have been missing teeth from the left side of her jaw.  Surprisingly the painting exists, because the queen did not typically allow unflattering images of her to survive.


Figure II: Ultraviolet light inspection.

An early benefactor of Elizabethan Gardens purchased the painting in the early 1950s for a grand sum between 50 and 100 dollars.  On display in the gatehouse for the next fifty years, the painting was exposed to fluctuating temperature and humidity while thousands of visitors passed by.  Two years ago the painting was placed in storage after speculation of its early origin dated it to the 16th century.  Today through cooperation with East Carolina University and other resources in eastern North Carolina, the painting will be examined to determine its true age.


Figure III: Susanne Grieve getting a closer look with a head loupe.

 Susanne Grieve, conservator and instructor for the Program in Maritime Studies, made a preliminary assessment of the painting.  Using simple tools including loupes and an ultraviolet light, Ms. Grieve postulated that the portrait exhibits trademarks of an older painting.  The veneer exhibits cracking, an indicator of advanced aging.  Pigments in the paint did not react to the ultraviolet light, a possible indication that the paint used is not of a modern era.  Further analysis using infrared technologies will lead to more in-depth analysis.


Figure IV: Examining the frame.

For more information consult the Virginia-Pilot April 12th 2008 for a newspaper article detailing the paintings history from studio to present.

 Also visit Elizabethan Gardens website at   http://www.elizabethangardens.org/.

General Conservation

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