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Summary of findings

a conservator wearing a visor examining the breastplate area of the painting of St Michael

We have learnt a great deal about this Spanish panel painting and its interesting history just by examining it very closely.

Technical examination reveals a competent, if unsophisticated, underdrawing and an image which would have been striking in its combination of strong reds, blues and greens with the extensive use of silver leaf beneath a gold coloured glaze, all set against the gilded and decorated background. Cleavage and flaking of the applied silver leaf may have resulted in a very early restoration, which is now almost impossible to separate from the damaged original. After its period as a door the painting was ‘rediscovered’, repaired and heavily restored by an inferior hand probably before sale to Britain. Apart from the marks and damages of door fittings, the reverse remains remarkably unaltered.

Comparison of the underdrawing shown in the infra-red photos with other paintings in Spanish regional and church collections suggests that it might originally have been painted sometime between 1475-1500 in Catalonia by a painter either in the circle of an unidentified artist called the Master of Olot or a follower of the Vergós family, Rafael and Pablo (flourished 1492-1501), whose work represents the last flowering of the late medieval Catalan painting tradition. Olot is a small town lying in the volcanic foothills of the Pyrenees, north of Girona. If the Catalan School identification is confirmed then the moral of the story is that one should never ignore early attributions simply because they were made a long time ago.