Assessing the Paintings

The portrait paintings at Knole serve as ‘silent witnesses’ to the past. Evidence of this common past is visible in the form of cracks, delamination, warping, additions, re-gilding, loans and treatments. To uncover this evidence, we assess the paintings using technical inspection combined with research into the documented history of Knole.

Technical Inspection

Multiple techniques were used to assess each of the paintings in the Knole House portrait set. Our focus is on understanding the paintings in terms of their condition, construction, technique and materials.

Visible and infra-red photographs of recto and verso views of the paintings enable us to inspect both the painted surface and the structural support. Digital callipers were used to take surface measurements of each painting over a grid pattern in order to assess surface profile deformation due to panel warp. Samples of paint and gilding were analysed using scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDX) to identify the materials and material history of the paintings and their frames.

Check our assessment of each painting in the Brown Gallery.

Colour photograph showing in situ examination of a painting at Knole House
1890 Tudor Exhibition label for Knole House portrait of John Fisher

Historical Research

The documented history of Knole House and other archival sources offer further evidence concerning the paintings in the portrait set and the environments to which they have been exposed.

Historical inventories, for example, help to identify a timeline of both the series of paintings acquired for the set and where these paintings were put on display. Exhibition labels and catalogues confirm the periods during which specific paintings were out on loan and therefore subject to different environmental conditions. Conservation records identify the repairs and other treatments that have been applied to specific paintings.

View our historical timeline of the Brown Gallery portrait set.