Technique and condition

Nathaniel Dance-Holland’s The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas was exhibited in 1766. The support is a coarse loosely woven, linen canvas primed with a brownish pink ground, which is smooth except where it has formed lumpy reticulations between the canvas threads (for example near the back of Aeneas's head). This type of canvas and ground is typical of paintings prepared in Rome in the mid-eighteenth century.

The composition seems to have been sketched in first with dull brown oil paint or perhaps dark grey in the background, applied very thinly. Thereafter the paint was dense and oily, with the modelling done largely wet-in-wet, sketchily in the background and more enamel-like in the foreground.

The artist appears to have made many alterations, the thickness and density of the lower layers suggest changes of mind rather than an unusual form of underpainting. Those in the background faces are now visible to the naked eye and it is also clear that the brown toga at the far right was originally green, parts of this layer being left visible to create a shot effect. Microscopic examination of the surface revealed other alteration, mainly made to the colour scheme. For example; Aeneas's toga was originally purple, Dido's purple bodice was once pale lemon yellow, as was her blue sleeve and Dido’s yellow skirt was once purple.

In general the painting is in excellent condition. There has been later abrasion of the paint in some dark and mid-tones but it does not significantly diminish the image. It was lined sometime in the nineteenth century and given a new stretcher at the same time.