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Conservation of Jacopo Zucchi’s Portrait of a Lady

Jacopo Zucchi's 'Portrait of a Lady'

Jacopo Zucchi (Italian, 1540 – 1596), Portrait of a Lady, oil on canvas, 48 x 37-3/4 in. 63-1/2 x 54-1/4 in (framed). Courtesy of the Clowes Fund. C10015.

Jacopo Zucchi’s 16th century Portrait of a Lady (attributed) portrays a wealthy woman in a red velvet dress, adorned in jewelry. With no coat of arms, inscriptions or other indications, the lady’s identity remains a topic of on going research by IMA scholars. The painter Zucchi apprenticed under well-known Florentine artist Giorgio Vasari, and both artists painted for various members of the affluent and powerful Medici family. The woman in the portrait may have been closely associated with the Medici family, a link that correlates well with her sumptuous clothing and precious jewelry. Technical analysis and examination of the pigments used in the composition further reinforce the woman’s wealth. For instance, vermilion, an expensive bright-red pigment typically reserved for delicate red hues in flesh tones, was used throughout the dress. Only the most prosperous of patrons could afford a portrait with such expensive paints, let alone the actual garments and jewelry. Ongoing research and technical analysis will hopefully provide clues to her identity as well as solidify the attribution.


Portrait of a Lady suffered numerous damages in the past, and although previously restored on several occasions, the painting has remained unsuitable for display due to aesthetic reasons. In particular, the aged natural resin varnish present over the entire surface caused the painting to appear yellow and the woman’s complexion to appear an unnatural yellow-orange (Fig. 1). The painting was moved out of storage and brought to the Conservation Lab at the IMA, where it underwent analysis and treatment with the chief goal of restoring it to an exhibitable state. After thorough testing, the varnish was carefully removed using solvents during the first stage of the conservation process. Immediately following the varnish removal, the painting appeared much brighter, and the woman’s original pale complexion was returned. Along with the varnish, the old restorers’ paint was removed, since it too had discolored and no longer matched the original paint. At this point in the treatment, the painting revealed the true extent of past damages. The paint losses indicate that the painting likely suffered from being folded and from exposure to water. With the varnish and overpaint removed, the numerous damages, which interfered greatly with the interpretation of the composition, could be addressed.


Fiona Beckett retouches Portrait of a Lady

Retouching Jacopo Zucchi’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ in the Clowes Pavilion.

In the final stage of treatment, the areas of paint loss and abrasion are visually reintegrated into the composition by a conservation process known as “inpainting” or “retouching” (Fig.2). A fine sable brush is used to gently apply stable conservation pigments in a synthetic medium to the damaged areas. This process is time consuming and requires precise blending of pigments to match those of the painting. This final step in the treatment will occur in the Clowes Pavilion, located on Floor 2. From April through June, Clowes Conservator of Paintings Fiona Beckett will finish retouching the painting in the gallery for guests to observe. Once the retouching is complete, a stable synthetic varnish will be applied to the surface of the painting to fully saturate the colors, as well as provide a layer of protection. Natural aging and cracking of the paint will remain visible as a testament to the painting’s age, which is approximately 500 years old. With the conservation process complete, the painting will once again, and for the first time in many years, be exhibited in the Clowes Pavilion.



Visitors can watch the restoration of Portrait of a Lady in the Clowes Italian Gallery from April – June 2015 on the following days:

Wednesdays   10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Thursdays   1 – 4 p.m.

First Thursdays 5 – 7 p.m.

First Saturdays 12 – 3 p.m.


Filed under: Conservation

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