MOVING any painting needs care, but when it is a 500-year-old Titian, you do not take chances.
That is why the National Trust has called in the experts before allowing a Titian portrait of an unknown man to even be packed for the move from Ickworth House to the National Gallery.
The first stage took place on Tuesday when freelance paintings conservator Sally Woodcock gave the painting a health check in preparation for the trip. Her job is to prepare a report on its condition, which is checked before it leaves Ickworth and when it arrives at the London gallery.
It will be shown there from April 4 to August 19 alongside 20 other Titians around his painting The Flight into Egypt, which is on loan from the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.
Helen explained: “Paintings are sensitive to vibration and the environment, humidity levels and so on. Some respond in odd ways you don’t expect.”
Their sensitivity to change is such that the crate the 29in by 24in oil-on-canvas will travel in will be kept in the same room for 24 hours before the painting is put into it. At a secret date it will be moved in a lorry with air suspension and climate control to minimise vibration and temperature and humidity changes.
Part of the reason for their sensitivity is that artists like Titian, who lived from about 1488 to 1576, used natural materials including linseed oil, natural pigments and tree resin varnish.
“It’s not just the way the pigments react individually but they way they react with each other,” Helen said. “Think of it as a sandwich of layers: In some cross section samples you can see 30 layers.”
The Ickworth painting may be a self-portrait painted in about 1512. It is not known for sure how and when it came into the house’s collection.
The gilt frame is much later and Helen’s ultraviolet torch showed up retouching around the edges, possibly as a result of being reframed.
But she was happy with its state and added, as she used a badger hair brush to dust the frame: “This is a very clean painting. Normally there’s a cloud of bat poo when you do this in churches!”
House steward Chloe Woodrow was pleased at the verdict on her care of the painting she cherishes.
“I shall miss him,” she admitted.