Cross-section sample from the banding on the front of the chest showing the ground (1), lead white (2) and verdigris (3) paint layers. A brown discoloration is evident in the upper part of the verdigris layer.
The Original Color Scheme
A significant finding was the presence of traces of a green pigment, revealed in cross-sections from the lozenges of the diagonal bands. The existing paint scheme, in which each band of red lozenges alternated with two bands of an indeterminate yellow-white color, showed no suggestion of green. The colorant was identified as verdigris, a pigment consisting of copper acetates, in combination with some lead-tin yellow. Examination of the x-radiographs confirmed that the verdigris had been almost entirely lost, along with its lead white underlayer, with the boundaries of the losses in some cases corresponding quite precisely to the shapes of the lozenges. The extensive loss of green paint is likely connected with the known tendency of verdigris to discolor, seen clearly in this cross-section, in which the upper part of the green paint layer has altered to a dark brown. The discoloration may have prompted the scraping away of the green lozenges in an early restoration, or alternatively the physical deterioration of the verdigris could have caused the paint and its underlayer to flake away from the surface.
To further investigate the presence of verdigris in the decorative scheme, cleaning ‘reveals’ were made, in which small areas of overpaint were carefully removed to expose the lower layers. The results supported the analytical findings, providing a vivid picture of the original appearance of the banding, and confirming that the decoration had consisted of bands of alternating red, white and green. In the restorations carried out over the years the overall decoration scheme was preserved, but colors and subtle details of the banding had been lost: the areas of the green lozenges were overpainted with yellow/white, the fine white lines demarcating the red and green lozenges were substituted with heavy black strokes, and yellow edging was added to the sides the bands. Even the overall pattern had shifted slightly, relative to the original position the lozenges.
Below is an X-ray detail of an area of banding on the front of the chest. The areas appearing light (marked A) correspond to the original lead white based paint layer; in some places the boundaries of the losses to this paint (marked with arrows) correspond closely to the lozenge shapes. The horizontal line through the image corresponds to a filled join in the panels.
Below is an area of banding on the front of the chest with overpaint removed, showing remnants of the original red, green and white painted decoration.
Using the information from the technical study, a reconstruction was undertaken by digital image manipulation to approximate the original appearance of the paint surface on the front of the chest.