Every member of Conservation Team has a favourite object, or two, in the house. There are several items we would sneak away for our own homes, but of course we settle for the pleasure of caring for them and seeing them every day. Over the next few weeks we’ll all be choosing one of our favourite objects to tell you about. To begin with, here is one of my favourite objects:
Portrait of James I in the Leicester Gallery, Studio of Daniel Mytens (c.1590–1647) James VI and I (1566–1625).
This version of Mytens’s lost original portrait in a remarkably surviving contemporary silver gilt and blue frame, finely carved with putti and trailing acanthus branches, probably belonged to Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex. It’s frame is one of the reasons’ why this object is a favourite of mine. I think its simply stunning, and you see so few frames that retain this colour scheme. The frame has had some interventions in its lifetime, but unlike some of the other blue / gold frames at Knole it has not been completely re-gilded.
The interesting point about this painting that makes it a favourite of mine is that the device of anamorphopsis is used in the painting. Anamorphosis is a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. “Ana – morphosis” comes from the Greek words meaning “formed again.” In this painting if you focus on the right foot of King James and walk across the gallery towards the window, the foot appears to move as you move and it follows you across the room!
There are two main types of anamorphosis: Perspective (oblique) and Mirror (catoptric). Examples of perspectival anamorphosis date to the early Renaissance (15th Century), whereas examples of mirror anamorphosis (or catoptric anamorphosis) occurred at the time of the baroque (17th century).
The painting and frame have received some conservation work over its lifetime. In situ treatment was carried out in 1975 and further work by Alec Cobbe in 1986. A recent condition survey of the painting carried out in 2012 records that deterioration is evident, there are areas of raised paint throughout, active flaking and blisters in the paint. The conservator has recommended five days in-situ work to clean the surface of the painting and consolidate the damage and to improve the appearance of the varnish layer.
The frame was also surveyed in 2012 and it was noted that the in the structure of the frame there were some slight shrinkage cracks in some of the carved detail and a few minor losses. The surface of the frame (the paint and gilding) were described as being dusty and dirty and slightly worn on the highlights. There is some flaking of the surface particularly on the bottom rail. There was no evidence of woodworm, however the back of the frame was not viewed on this occasion. Treatment recommended was studio time to stabilise flaking areas, clean the surface to an agreed level and possibly consider analysing te decorative surface.
Both the painting and the frame were rated as being potentially unstable (Condition not expected to deteriorate within next 5-10 years), but in good condition (Minor amount of damage and/or loss of original and added material, or with light discolouration or accretions) and treatment is desirable (Conservation treatment desirable but not necessary to ensure the long term stability of the object. For instance, conservation treatment may be required for curatorial reasons) but necessary or urgent.