Tudor and Stuart Technical Research

May 2003 – October 2005

Tate holds a significant collection of paintings by artists working in England during the Tudor and Stuart periods, which stretched from the early sixteenth century to the 1700s. Supported by generous funding from the Getty Grant Program, conservators and conservation scientists at Tate completed the technical examination and scientific analysis of over a hundred such paintings, using techniques including X-radiography, infrared reflectography, microscopical examination, paint analysis, dendrochronology and detailed photography.

The earliest dated painting in this study is An Unknown Man in a Black Cap, painted in 1545 by John Bettes, and the latest is The Harvey Family 1721 by Sir Godfrey Kneller. In between them are a host of paintings by both foreign and English artists who made a living primarily by painting portraits, for example Hans Eworth, George Gower, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, Anthony Van Dyck, William Dobson, Peter Lely, John Michael Wright and Cornelius Johnson. This is the period that saw traditional English portraiture – somewhat stiff and prone to the diagrammatic – adapting itself to the courtly elegance and painterly sophistication evident in paintings by artists who moved to England from the continent. It has been interesting to find that the materials of painting – the pigments and the oils for binding them together – were potentially available to all, whether at court or in the countryside in the north-west of England, where an unknown artist painted the Cholmondeley sisters in the early seventeenth century. The range of materials used during this period is matched by a wealth of painterly styles, which this research project has also helped uncover.

Art historical research on the paintings has been compiled by Tate curators Karen Hearn and Tabitha Barber. Catalogue entries on specific works from this period appear as links in the relevant technical entries.

The technical research project was led by Rica Jones, Senior Conservator of Paintings at Tate, and Joyce Townsend, Senior Conservation Scientist at Tate. Over the years many other conservators and conservation scientists were involved: Jacqueline Ridge, Natasha Walker, Kate Stonor, Helen Brett, Mary Bustin, Bronwyn Ormsby, Helen Spande, Patricia Favero while working at Tate, the Isabel Horovitz conservation studio, and for external analysis Ashok Roy, Jo Kirby-Atkinson, Libby Sheldon, Brian Singer, Jaap Boon, Katrien Keune, Ian Tyers and Peter Klein. Tate’s Photography Department also contributed to both the research and realisation of the project. We were enriched too by comparative information and support from the following institutions: National Gallery, London; National Portrait Gallery, London; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the National Trust. Several private collections and independent conservators also contributed to the project.


Project type
Research project

Lead department
Tate Conservation

Project team
Rica Jones, Senior Paintings Conservator, Tate
Joyce H. Townsend, Senior Conservation Scientist, Tate