Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots found under painting

Conservators have found a likeness of Mary Queen of Scots beneath a 1589 portrait of a Scots peer.

Experts from the National Galleries of Scotland the Courtauld Institute found the painting while researching the portrait of Sir John Maitland, Lord Maitland of Thirlestane and Lord Chancellor of Scotland, attributed to Adrian Vanson. The painting is owned by the National Trust and usually hangs at Ham House near London.

An x-ray taken by the Courtauld’s Dr Caroline Rae during a joint research project with the galleries revealed the ghostly image beneath of a woman bearing an unmistakeable resemblance to the queen, who was executed in 1587, two years before the Maitland painting.

 “Vanson’s portrait of Sir John Maitland is an important picture in the National Trust collection, and the remarkable discovery of the unfinished portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots adds an exciting hidden dimension to it” said David Taylor, curator of pictures at the National Trust. “It shows that portraits of the queen were being copied and presumably displayed in Scotland around the time of her execution, a highly contentious and potentially dangerous thing to be seen doing.”

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