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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Woman

  1. Introduction
  2. Signature
  3. Technical notes
  4. Subject
  5. Attribution and date

Technical notes

Conservation and condition

The painting was cleaned and restored in 1973/4, at which time a secondary pine panel was removed; the original panel was then reinforced with balsa wood and wax-resin, and oak edging strips were attached. The condition of the paint is generally good, although the flesh is thin in places, and there are some paint losses, especially down the right edge.

Materials and technique

The support was described as beech in the 1959 catalogue, but this does not appear to have been on the basis of any scientific analysis and cannot be confirmed, as the original panel is no longer accessible. The overall size (including edging strips) is now 37.6 x 26.6 cm. The thickness is about 0.6 cm. The grain is vertical. A nearly vertical damage to the left of the sitter (10.3 cm from the left edge at the bottom and 9.8 cm from the same edge at the level of the sitter’s chin) indicates the position of a split or join. X-radiography also shows a vertical line which appears to be another join to the right of the sitter’s head.

The ground is chalk (calcium carbonate). Visible in X-radiographs is a network of tangled fibres in patches over the panel. These must be either below the ground or embedded in it as reinforcement. Infrared reflectography revealed no underdrawing in the face and nothing certainly identifiable as underdrawing in the figure. It was not possible to penetrate the black background paint.

The medium in the red paint of the skirt was identified by GC–MS analysis as linseed oil; there was no indication that it had been heat-bodied.

Pigments and painting technique

The velvet skirt of the sitter’s dress was created very economically by first painting the lighter areas of the modelling using an opaque orange-red paint consisting of vermilion applied onto a flat black underpaint. A translucent deep-red paint consisting of red lake was then painted across the whole skirt, giving a deep, rich purple-red appearance where this lies directly on black in the shadows. In the black underpaint, in addition to the black pigment, a small amount of a zinc compound, probably white vitriol, is present as an additive. Slight modification to the size of the links of the chain was made during painting, as indicated by areas where the flesh paint lies over the edges of the chain.

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