The Victorian-era painting thought to portray Eleanor of Toledo showed a woman with a youthful face and a healthy glow, but art historians recently revealed the 16th-century, unsigned painting was altered and represents a completely different woman.
The painting was so heavily over-painted, Carnegie Museum of Art curator Louise Lippincott told Carnegie Magazine, "we mistook it for a fake, fabricated to deceive."
Careful cleaning and restoration by conservator Ellen Baxter with the museum revealed a lady with paler complexion, a more pronounced nose, tired eyes and a higher forehead. Research revealed the uncovered painting wasn't Eleanor of Toledo but her daughter, Isabella de Medici.
After noticing cracks in the painting and conducting further analysis, researchers found that the painting had been altered. Restoration revealed it was Isabella de Medici instead. (Image source: Carnegie Museum of Art)
According to the museum, the piece was likely painted over to conform to 19th-century tastes, but in its original form it "[reveals] a portrait of much greater depth and personality."
The painting is part of the the museum's exhibit "Faked, Forgotten, Found: Five Renaissance Paintings Investigated," which opens Saturday.
The restoration also revealed a vial in the image that was covered up, which Carnegie Magazine reports is supposed to represent one like that which Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus' feet. Here's more on the significance of including this piece in the original artwork (emphasis added):
An intellectual who spoke many languages and entertained in a salon, Isabella, as the museum sleuths soon learned, was the favorite of her father, Grand Duke Cosimo. She married Paolo Orsini at age 16, a union so unhappy that Isabella remained in Florence while her husband lived in Rome. Isabella brazenly took lovers, including her husband’s cousin, and she got away with it under her father’s protection. But when her father died and her disapproving brother Ferdinando took over, Isabella met a terrible fate. Her husband and brother conspired to strangle her in 1576.
Lippincott and Baxter believe that Isabella posed for the portrait and asked the artist to add the urn later on in a feeble attempt to rehabilitate her image from fallen woman to a pious one. The urn sits shallowly in her hand and its perspective isn’t quite right, which suggests it wasn’t part of the original composition. “This is literally the bad girl seeing the light,” Lippincott says.
Lippincott told Carnegie Magazine from a distance the restored painting looks "magnificent."
“But up close, an expert will be able to tell modern retouches from the original in keeping with ethical conservation practices.”
(H/T: Daily Mail)