What will happen now to the painting?
Infra-red image showing the underdrawing of St Michael's face.
It may surprise people that there are no plans to conserve the painting.
Will all the overpaint be cleaned to uncover the original painting?
No. Even before the painting arrived in the conservation studio we had decided not to clean it fully. We suspected the condition of the original painting was poor as this had been referred to in earlier descriptions of the panel, although no conservation report exists.
The original painting survives in a damaged and fragmentary condition beneath thick layers of overpaint. Much of the overpaint is difficult to remove safely and this would take months of painstaking work. At the end we might be left with a fragmentary original that would be difficult to reconstruct. At present we do not think this is a sensible task to undertake.
Detail of the painting during the investigation. The light patch on the neck is a cleaning test.
We chose the cleaning test and sample sites very carefully to get the maximum amount of information from them. All our test areas and samples have been photographed in detail and will now be carefully retouched before the painting goes back on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery.
We hope that our work will inform future conservators and curators in their decisions about any treatment as well as help today’s generation of visitors to understand and hopefully enjoy the painting more.