Dendrochronology isn’t easy to say…

…or type, so from here on in, we’ll refer to it as dendro’.

Last week Catherine Daunt (Leverhulme-funded PhD candidate, National Portrait Gallery (NPG)/UniversityofSussex) returned to Knole with her colleague from the NPG, Dr Edward Town, to continue her research on the set of portraits on panels in the Brown Gallery.

The NPG team are researching the portrait set that hang on the south wall of the Brown Gallery

The NPG team are researching the portrait set that hang on the south wall of the Brown Gallery. Catherine’s research is part of the NPGs Making Art in Tudor Britain (MATB) research project (2007-11).  In a summary of her research so far Catherine explains “the Brown Gallery set is of great interest to me because of its size, its range of sitters, its derivation from a variety of sources, and the fact that it is probably in the house for which it was originally made. No set like it survives inBritainand it was probably always unique, tailored for its original owner.”

The set was not always hung in the Brown Gallery.  In 1821 John Bridgeman stated that the paintings were originally in the Cartoon Gallery but were moved when the cartoons arrived in 1700/1 (John Bridgman, An Historical and Topographical Sketch of Knole inKent; with a Brief genealogy of the Sackville Family,London, 1821). On a previous visit Catherine and Ed found traces of a light blue paint found beneath the gilded ovals on some of the paintings, which supports this view as this paint colour was used in the decoration of the Cartoon Gallery at this time.

Portrait of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, part of the Brown Gallery set

So far Catherine and her colleagues have undertaken the following research methods:
–  Surface examination and stylistic analysis.
–  High resolution digital photography and infra-red photography.

On this visit Dr Ian Tyers accompanied Catherine to carry out dendro’ on 8 of the paintings; Sir Francis Drake; Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex; Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey; Henri, Duc de Guise; Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset; William Cecil, Baron Burghley; Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury; Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester.

Dr Ian Tyers begins the dendrochronlogy on one of the paintings.

The microscope used to measure the rings in the end grain of the panels. This website explains the dendro process:

Catherine has summarised some of the research findings so far:

– Stylistically, there appear to be a number of subgroups. It is likely that several painters worked on the set.
– Dendrochronology has indicated that the paintings date from around the early years of the seventeenth century and that the panels are made from Eastern Baltic oak, which was was common during this period.
– Eight paintings from the set have so far been examined by Ian and three were found to have been painted on wood that derived from the same tree. Two others were found to contain wood from another common tree. These links indicate that the paintings were made together in the same workshop and were probably always intended to form a set.

Catherine and the team hope to carry out further dendro on more of the portraits.

Our thanks go to Catherine for providing details on her research so far, and we look forward to finding out more as the research continues.  Watch this space!

Emily, Lucy, Melinda and Sarah.

You can out more about the research project via the NPGs website:


4 thoughts on “Dendrochronology isn’t easy to say…

  1. Brilliant blog…chock-full of fascinating detail, and very clearly and accessibly described for the layman. Well done, team!

    • Thanks Veronica. We#re very excited about what the research is revealing, can’t wait to find out more. It was very interesting in how the dendrochronology process works on picture frames, no drills in sight!

  2. Pingback: Counting down and this and that… | The Knole Conservation Team Blog

  3. Pingback: What lies beneath | The Knole Conservation Team Blog

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