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The Patrick Lindsay Bequest

Flaminia Rukavina was appointed as the first Patrick Lindsay Conservation Fellow at the National Gallery. Here Flaminia reveals more about what her role entails, and her exciting current projects:

Can you tell us a bit about your background?
After attending school in Rome, I studied painting conservation in Vienna at the University of Applied Arts. After my master’s degree I moved to Munich and worked for two years at the Doerner Institut which takes care of the collection of the Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen. I was part of the team responsible for the Alte Pinakothek (where part of the collection is kept), where I worked primarily on old master paintings. I have since worked as a freelance conservator and as part of the editorial team for a technical conservation journal.

Flaminia Rukavina

How does this role compare to your previous experiences?
The Patrick Lindsay Conservation Fellowship is focused on practical work rather than research, exhibitions and loans work. This allows me to spend the majority of my time at the easel, being hands on with the works in my care.

I have also been lucky to benefit from the opportunity to interact with both scientific and curatorial departments. This is immensely valuable as it allows for deeper insight and analysis from different perspectives.

What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment I’m working on two different paintings, Portrait of the Infanta Isabella', attributed to Rubens’ studio and dated as pre-1615, and the Head of Saint John the Baptist by an unknown artist of the Milanese school.

Studio of Peter Paul Rubens, 'Portrait of the Infanta Isabella', about 1615

Studio of Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of the Infanta Isabella, about 1615

The National Gallery’s 'Isabella' is one of several versions, of varying quality, to have come out of the artist’s studio. The work was acquired by the Gallery in 1923 in poor condition. The canvas had been lined with a glue-paste adhesive and during this process the coarse structure of the attached canvas had been pressed into the surface of the painting. Recently, we noticed that the lining was beginning to detach from the margins of the original support. Once I had finished thinning the yellowed varnish and removing old discoloured overpaints, we decided that it was necessary to remove the old lining. Due to the weakened original canvas I will have to reline the work with a less invasive method, aiming to reinforce the very brittle and degraded support. I will then retouch and fill the losses. 

'The Head of Saint John the Baptist' is a panel painting which needs structural treatment of the wooden support. It has had additions on three sides, which have been nailed and glued on. I’m in the process of removing these additions and repairing the splits. The painting’s black background also had a dull and milky appearance, due to the thick yellowed varnish layers. By cleaning the painting, the intensity and colour saturation, especially of the dark areas, are now visible again.

What types of discoveries do you make during the conservation process?
Prior to each treatment the paintings are photographed and analysed via infrared reflectography, UV-light and X-rays. The conservator looks closely at the painting under the microscope to assess the painting’s support, paint layers and damages. Non-original additions to the painting and colour changes (due to the ageing of binding media) in combination with the pigments may be established, or underdrawings that indicate changes in the artist’s composition can be discovered. During the cleaning and removal of old discoloured varnish layers, further details may become visible. Colour hues and painted particulars, are sometimes hidden beneath yellowed surface coatings, but with cleaning these can be revealed.

After the removal of the old lining of the 'Archduchess Isabella', an abbreviated inscription on the reverse of the original canvas has become visible. We do not know yet what it means, but it could help us to find out more about the painting’s provenance.

Is there any variation in your personal response to paintings during the conservation process?
When you look very closely at a painting and focus on details which may not be evident from a greater distance, whether it’s a brush mark or fine lights on top of a painted metal surface, you do have a different approach to the painting. But I think that it is also important not to focus too much on the damages of a painting and to look at it as a whole.

Is there any one period or even, painting, that you identify with over any other?
I very much like Italian Renaissance paintings, possibly because I grew up in Italy. I also feel some identification with works painted by artists that I have already worked on, since I have a better knowledge of the artist’s life, oeuvre and technique.

Do you have a favourite picture in the National Gallery?
The National Gallery keeps so many paintings of such enormous quality and beauty that it is hard to pick out only one. However, paintings which come to mind are Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?), Antonello da Messina’s Saint Jerome in his Study, and Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks. I also enjoy works by Francesco Guardi and JMW Turner, both of whom are broadly represented at the Gallery.


About the post
Flaminia’s post was made possible by a generous bequest from the late Patrick Lindsay, who had a strong connection with the work of the Gallery’s Conservation Department.

If you are interested in finding out more about leaving a gift in your will to the National Gallery please email Georgina Barry in the Development Office via

Although it will cost you nothing in your lifetime, your gift, however large or small, will ensure a better future for the Gallery, and generations of future art lovers.