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A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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X-Rays Reveal Sketch of Mary Queen of Scots

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Scotland Mary portraitLONDON, ENGLAND—X-ray imaging has revealed a rare portrait of Mary Queen of Scots underneath a painting of a Scottish nobleman, according to a report in The Independent. The unfinished image is thought to have been started in 1586 by Dutch artist Adrian Vanson in Scotland, while Mary was a prisoner in England, and may have been abandoned when she was executed for her complicity in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I later that year. The sketch of Mary’s face, hat, and neck were eventually covered with the image of Sir John Maitland, the Scottish king’s Chancellor, in 1588. Part of Mary’s dress was turned into his doublet, and her right hand was modified to form Maitland’s right hand. “Now that we know from the X-ray images what was going on, it explains why the portrait of the Scottish Chancellor was so awkwardly painted,” said Caroline Rae of the Courtauld Institute of Art. To read about similar work being done on ancient Roman frescoes in Herculaneum, go to "Putting on a New Face."

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