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X-radiograph of the panel construction

X-ray of a tall narrow wooden panel, showing the metal tacks holding the reinforcing batons and decorative arcading in place

X-ray of the painting

Looking beneath the surface of the painting

While a simple visual examination of the back of the painting reveals quite a lot of information, to get the full picture you need to use x-radiography to look beneath the surface.

The x-radiograph, or x-ray, above shows all the features of the panel and its construction, from the cross batons and large nails heads to the individual cracks in the paint. The outline of the painted figure is also just visible.

How do we know there are fibres on the front of the panel underneath the paint?

The fibres that show up in the x-ray follow a completely different pattern to those seen on the back, indicating that they are on the surface not the back of the panel. A magnified detail of the x-ray is shown below.

We also know from Spanish artists’ treatises that glueing fibres to the panel, front and back, before starting the painting was common practice in the 15th and 16th centuries.

composite of 2 details from the x-ray, showing the edge of the painting on the left and fibres on the right

Details showing sacking tacked to the side of panel on the left and a magnified view of the fibres on the right

What is the other type of canvas at the edge?

A type of coarse sacking is tacked along both vertical sides of the panel and continues under the paint layer. From the x-ray we can see it does not extend under the whole painting but is in strips along each vertical edge.

From examination of the painted surface it is clear that there is little or no original paint along either side and the canvas is part of an extensive repair, probably necessitated because the edges of the original painting were damaged.