'Lady in Blue': Investigation of blanching through varnish application on a 16th century portrait

Author: Rachel Childers
Mentors: Patrick Ravines, Professor, Director of the Garman Art Conservation Department, New York; Fiona Beckett, Assistant Professor

Institution: State University of New York Buffalo State College (USA) — Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department, graduated in 2020

Portrait of a Lady is a 16th century portrait of a sitter presumed to be the Madonna figure. Like many paintings its age, it has suffered immensely from harsh cleanings which has resulted in a severely blanched paint film. A full technical analysis was executed to understand the artist’s technique and identify materials; however, the primary goal was to determine a suitable treatment protocol to investigate the blanched paint layer and reintegrate the composition. Confocal microscopy was used to quantify the surface texture of the blanching both before and after the varnish and solvent applications. Based on the results, a treatment protocol using varnishes was established, and the painting showed significant improvement to the blanched surface. While more research is required to fully understand treatment options for blanching, the painting allowed for a practical approach to testing on an historical surface due to the severity of the blanching.