Making Art in Tudor Britain, research project participation by Aviva Burnstock, Courtauld Conservation and Technology

Submitting Institution

Courtauld Institute of Art

Unit of Assessment

Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
History and Archaeology: Curatorial and Related Studies, Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Making Art in Tudor Britain (MATB) has enhanced public engagement with iconic images of British history; generated fresh insights for the public (multiple makers' hands, works' international origin) and brought works into display. School-level learners and teachers have particular readiness to attend to Tudor material since the Tudor period is central to National Curriculum. Popular access to findings on the makeup of works (lectures, website, museum displays and trails, book, press articles) led to knowledge enhancement. Viewers were fascinated and instructed by a TV demonstration of newly-tried methods of technical analysis on forgeries. MATB has impacted on international conservation practice, sparking exhibitions and projects.

Underpinning research

Research on chemical changes in paint and pigments was undertaken by Burnstock in 2005-9 re Renaissance cassone and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting. Chemical analysis of paints, reconstruction of original chemical compounds used by artists and assessment of change and deterioration was undertaken.

In the MATB project Burnstock joined a collaborative, interdisciplinary team which undertook a study of material practices involved in painting of the Tudor and Jacobean period, and contexts relating to the making and circulation of works. Within the project she undertook technical research on paintings and supervised a Couortauld PhD student (Caroline Rae) focused on this topic. She played a key role in assessing the implications of the data resulting from technical examination undertaken by the range of conservators active in the project and in developing interpretation in relation to historical questions.

Investigation of new documentary sources and technical and scientific analysis of paintings was undertaken of paintings in the National Portrait Gallery (having the largest number and most significant paintings of this type, previously catalogued in 1969 without benefit of current technical resources), with study of comparative works from Tate, The Courtauld Gallery, the Royal Collection, the National Trust, English Heritage and a number of private collections. Collaboration between researchers generated new understanding of patronage, production and display of painting in the period, also supplemented methodologies for study of painted art and architecture in and beyond the period.

The project (supported by Leverhulme, plus grants listed below) was led by Dr Tarnya Cooper (PI, Chief Curator, NPG), Professor Aviva Burnstock (CI, Head of the Department of Conservation & Technology, The Courtauld) and Professor Maurice Howard (CI, Art History, University of Sussex). Research objectives

i. To undertake technical analysis on Elizabethan and Jacobean paintings using the following techniques: infrared reflectography, dendrochronology, paint analysis, x-radiography, ultra violet analysis, pigment sampling, microscopy and analysis of paint medium.

ii. To make use of the technical data to explore the relationship between the fabrication and function of Tudor and Jacobean paintings in relation to our research questions.

iii. To generate and publish a new body of knowledge via web case studies, gallery displays and printed publications.

Over 120 paintings from the NPG, with comparative works from other collections, were analysed in the NPG conservation studio, with some analysis of further comparative works being undertaken at The Courtauld and elsewhere.

The research used efficient systems for data collection. A skilled team of highly experienced technical staff (two part-time research conservators) worked on contracts over the research period. Consultation was undertaken with other specialists including curators, historians and scientists associated with museums and galleries in Britain and beyond, heritage organizations, universities (The Courtauld, University of Sussex, UCL) and private scholars in Britain and the Netherlands. Regular team meetings were held to assess data and generate interpretation. The project has been able to re-date paintings, determine categories of authorship, and revise assumptions about Tudor/Jacobean artistic culture. The critically important findings, as well as the data behind them, is being made accessible to both scholars and the public.

References to the research

1) A. Burnstock, Lanfear, K. J. van den Berg, E. Hendriks, L. Carlyle, M. Clarke, and J. Kirby, `Fading of red lake pigments: and experimental study and its relevance to observed changes in six paintings by Vincent van Gogh', ICOM CC ICOM-CC Preprints of the 14th Triennial Meeting The Hague, James & James, London, 2005, pp.459-67.

2) A. Burnstock, K.J. van den Berg and J. House, `Painting techniques of Pierre-Auguste Renoir: 1868-1919'. Art Matters, 2005:3, pp.47-65.

3) A. Burnstock, Christine Sitwell, Catherine Daunt and Sarah Freeman `A room transposed, the Kings Room at Westwood Manor, Wiltshire, UK', The Decorative: Conservation and the Applied Arts, IIC London 2012, 536-544.


4) Project database on NPG website: reports and images from technical analysis of 50+ paintings.

5) Conference Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage, three-day international conference, Dec 2010 documentation in form of abstracts and videos on NPG website.

6) Tarnya Cooper, Citizen Portrait: Portrait Painting and the Urban Elite of Tudor and Jacobean England and Wales, Yale University Press, New Haven 2012.


Evidence of the quality of the research:

Mercers' Company - awarded 7 April 2010
£20,000 (over two years) salary for project participation of Assistant Conservator.

British Academy, British Academy Research Development Award scheme (BARDA)
For 01/10/2010 - 31/01/2013. Grant awarded June 2010- £115,984 for 40% time of the Principal Investigator (Dr Tarnya Cooper) for the grant period, to cover salary of Senior Painting Conservator, New Media assistant (for digital outputs), photography costs and travel for research purposes.

Leverhulme Trust, Research Grant — awarded November 2010
Covering a period from Jan 2011 - December 2013. Grant awarded - £248,144 For collaborative work between the NPG, University of Sussex and The Courtauld. It includes 2 PhD studentships (one at University of Sussex, one at The Courtauld) and a postdoctoral researcher based at the NPG.

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation — awarded Feb 2010
Covering period from June 2010 - June 2013, Grant awarded - £97,626 Two years funding to cover the costs of technical analysis of paintings dated 1570-1620.

Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Educational Programme Grant awarded Nov 2009 For Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage conference in December 2010. £2,175 towards US speakers travel and subsistence costs.

British Academy Conference Support Grant, £4,673, for Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage conference December 2010.

British Academy Publication commitment: Painting in Britain 1500-1630 - Production, Influences and Patronage, edited by Aviva Burnstock, Tarnya Cooper and Maurice Howard, funded by the British Academy and to be published in 2015.

Details of the impact

Research into properties of paint undertaken by Burnstock prior to MATB informed the mode of study within MATB. MATB gathered evidence about paintings' condition and structure in order to gain knowledge about various factors. As CI, Burnstock was a crucial participant, focusing on technical aspects, seeing the implications of data generated in the project and leading on interpretation in relation to historical questions. The Courtauld project student contributed re technical aspects and archives. The Courtauld contribution took its place alongside the primarily historical and art-historical contribution from the University of Sussex via Howard (plus project student), and the technical and curatorial expertise at the NPG in PI Cooper, supported by contract researchers and NPG conservation team. Researchers in these three sites were in dialogue with curators and conservators in other collections in UK, continental Europe and USA. MATB was designed to generate fresh insights into a category of work available for the public to view and learn from, notably at the NPG but also in eg Knole House, Bolton Museum, Knebworth House, Penshurst Place, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and overseas collections eg Cultural Heritage of the Netherlands (RCE), Palazo Pitti, Florence, Prado, Madrid and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.

In 2011/12 the NPG Tudor Galleries had 901,194 visitors and in 2012/13 903,904. The NPG Learning Department (employing freelance teaching staff briefed on the MATP project findings) taught eight sessions per week on portraiture (centrally Tudor, since important to National Curriculum). MATB led to a series of special displays(and a trail) at the NPG Tudor Galleries, to showcase the new research and bring it to the attention of the NPG's visitors:

  • `Painting the Boy King: New research on portraits of Edward VI', May-Dec 2008
  • `Concealed and Revealed: The changing faces of Elizabeth I', March-Sep 2010
  • 2010-11 `New Discoveries' Tudor Galleries trail
  • `Picturing History: A portrait set of early kings and queens', July -Dec 2011
  • `Double Take: Versions and copies of Tudor portraits', June-Sep 2012

MATB pages on the NPG website,

  • 14 online case studies
  • Abstracts from four academic workshops held in 2007 and 2008
  • Extended abstracts and videos from the 3 day international conference, Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage, December 2010
  • Project database highlights over 50 paintings with reports and images from the technical analysis.

MATB page visits: 2011/12 -- 50,404; 2012/13 -- 74,044; 2013-part-year --32,521. The project pages are designed to serve the general public at all levels from school students doing homework or general interest browsing to museum professionals wishing to access the data and conclusions generated by the project.

Project outputs reach a wide variety of audiences. Conference contributions or public lectures have been made in London (The Courtauld/ NPG 2010, 120 people registered, Tate, British Museum, Institute of Historical Research, all 2012), Montacute House, Somerset (2011), Edinburgh (2012) and Copenhagen (2012). Impact has been felt by the diverse audiences attending these events. Project articles appeared in technically-oriented journals (The Picture Restorer, Spring 2010) and art-historical publications (The British Art Journal, January, 2009, Burlington Magazine, July 2012). For the professional conservation constituency (museum and heritage sector, and beyond) MATB's scholarly outputs are of special interest. Art historical publications such as the Burlington Magazine read by collectors, art world professionals, non- further-education-based art lovers and museum goers. Public lectures on Tudor or Renaissance art at London national museums attract socially diverse general-interest audiences.

The widest public has been reached through the media coverage of the project findings. On `Hidden: Unseen paintings beneath Tudor portraits', early Jan/Feb 2013

  • Evening Standard (double page); Guardian (front page); The Daily Telegraph; 2013 West End Extra
  • online reports: Daily Mail, gramilano, Stock Index Online

On Catherine of Aragon portrait discovery, late Jan 2013

  • Guardian; Daily Telegraph; Shropshire Star; The Sun; Western Daily Press
  • Online reports: Daily Mail, Culture24

MATB project listed as part of Guardian online roundup `Research in brief' 10 January 2012

Impact also occurs through the utilisation of project findings by conservators in museum contexts. The Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge uses MATB in study of painted rood screens C15th /16th (forthcoming publication)
`The Impact of Oil' (based at University of Amsterdam) uses MATB analytical methods re C16th paintings in major Dutch collections. An exhibition informed by MATB was mounted at Museum Princenhof, Delft, 2012, see

Broader technical implications were conveyed to a television audience (4million viewers UK, subsequently franchised for worldwide viewing) through Burnstock's participation in Fake or Fortune (BBC1) June 2011 re Haan van Megeren forgery. Analytical methods that had been tested in MATB were demonstrated in relation to this example.

Sources to corroborate the impact

1) National Portrait Gallery, London , Chief Curator
to corroborate claims re impact on NPG visitors and extent of press coverage, webpage visits, conference activity etc

2) The Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency, Senior Scientist
to corroborate claims re impact on international curatorial practice and research including
`The Impact of Oil' project

3) BBC, Director of Fake or Fortune
to corroborate claims re viewers of BBC1 programme

4) Bolton Museums and Archive , Curator
to corroborate claims re impact on museum exhibition programmes and thereby museum visitors beyond NPG

5) Former Curator of 16th & 17th-Century British Art at the Tate Galleries (1992-2012) Tate, to confirm impact and public profile of project through means of talks, conferences etc on extensive scholarly (curatorial, conservator and art historical) and broad art-interest community

6) National Portrait gallery website
Http:// Demonstrating availability of materials productive of impact, record of events productive of impact .

7) Conservation team at Knole blog instance of impact of MATB in heritage sector