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Saving art for the nation

Senior Paintings Conservator at Royal Museums Greenwich, Elizabeth Hamilton-Eddy, discusses the restoration of this important portrait in our video.

How we fund art and culture in the UK will be central to our discussions at Future Cities Forum's Art Investment and Cities event to be held at RIBA on 25th January 2018.

Currently hanging in the Queen's House, Greenwich, is one of the famous trio of Armada portraits of Elizabeth I, which has been saved for the nation - partly through a highly successful public donation programme - and therefore this is a key story that we are discussing at our forum.

A major public appeal by the Art Fund and Royal Museums Greenwich, attracting 8,000 donations totalling £1.5 million helped the museum acquire this particular Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I (there is another similar Armada painting hanging in the National Portrait Gallery and also one at Woburn Abbey) with the additional grant of £7.4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

We have been extremely privileged to record on film Senior Paintings Conservator at Royal Museums Greenwich, Elizabeth Hamilton-Eddy, describing the important restoration of the portrait which has added financial and educational value to the work. Please watch the video of her above.

Sir David Starkey campaigned to save the painting and Sir Roy Strong said 'Such an icon of England should not leave the country and for it to find its final resting place on the walls of the museum that celebrates our maritime heritage would seem only right and proper'.

There were also donations from the Linbury Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Headley Trust. However, the extraordinary level of support from the public makes this one of the most successful ever campaigns for a work of art.

The painting sold by the descendants of Sir Francis Drake, is in public ownership for the first time in its 425-year-history and is hung in the Queen's House on the site of the original Greenwich Palace, which was the birthplace of Elizabeth I.

The painting records the famous conflict with the Spanish in the summer of 1588 and is one of the strongest images of British history, an inspiration for countless portrayals of Elizabeth I in film or on stage and a staple in school textbooks. It has now undergone important restoration to reveal the bright colours that the Elizabethan age so admired.

It marks the moment in time when English artists were coming to the fore over the tradition of using painters from Europe. They were beginning to use distinctive techniques. Painting was carried out on oak panels with grounds of chalk, glue and white lead - which added a luminosity to the paintings - after which extremely thin layers of pigment were applied, now extremely fragile for restorers to work with.

Conservator Elizabeth Hamilton-Eddy worked to glue down loose areas with safe adhesives, clean the surface of aged varnish using the weakest of solvents, gently testing within tiny areas as she worked. A re-touching stage used synthetic resins and the final moment was a spray varnish - the whole process taking many months. Most important was the removal of a tree resin put on 100 years ago which had become very discoloured. Elizabeth felt this wasn't the look the original artist would have intended, so she was secure in removing it.

Please come and talk to Elizabeth at our event about her important work.

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