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First Duke of Buckingham portrait finally identified as original

25th September 2017

A painting of the first Duke of Buckingham by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens has been discovered in Glasgow and has been confirmed as an original after 400 years.

The work of art was found hanging in a National Trust for Scotland property and was believed to be a copy of the lost original, which had been missing for many centuries. It was spotted in the gallery of Pollok House by Dr Bendor Grosvenor from BBC4’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, who had a suspicion that it was in fact the real deal. 

Following this, the portrait will be the subject of an episode of the TV programme later this week, which will delve into how layers of dirt and overpaint on the masterpiece obscured Rubens’ trademark techniques. 

George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, was one of the most famous gay men in history and is thought to have been James VI and I’s lover.

It is believed that the work of art is worth millions as Rubens was a pioneer of the Flemish Baroque tradition and is widely considered one of the most influential painters in history. 

Art restorer Simon Gillespie worked on the painting to conserve the details and return the portrait to its original state before it was taken back to Glasgow Museums, reports the Guardian. During the conservation, a new assessment of its attribution was taken and the painting was authenticated as an original by Ben van Beneden - director of the Rubenshuis in Antwerp.

David McDonald, the chair of Glasgow Life, which runs the museums service, commented: “Unsurprisingly, we are beyond delighted to discover the painting is by Rubens, an artist renowned globally as one of the most important painters in history.

“We are excited to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see Rubens’s masterpiece in person. George Villiers is sure to become one of the undoubted highlights of any visit to Kelvingrove.”

To identify whether the painting was indeed an original, there were a number of processes used including dendrochronology, which looks at the tree rings of wood in order to date it. By doing this it was revealed that the panel on the work of art was likely painted in the early 1620s. 

In addition to this, the masterpiece was found to have been prepared in the manner used in Rubens’ studio. 

The relationship between the Duke and James VI has been debated many a time but there is evidence to show that the king referred to Villiers as his husband, which was widely unaccepted at the time. 

In 1628, three years after the king died, the Duke of Buckingham was assassinated at the young age of 35. Although art historians knew that Rubens had painted Villiers in around 1625, the work was thought to be lost for nearly 400 years. 

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