He was the eyes and ears of Elizabeth I, the loyal spymaster and ruthless counterterror chief: Sir Francis Walsingham was the man who knew everything. Or not quite everything, it seems. Certainly not that his portrait was secretly painted over an overtly Roman Catholic image of the holy Virgin and Child.Share
“He would not have been delighted,” speculated Dr Tarnya Cooper, standing in front of the remarkable new discovery going on show at the National Portrait Gallery. “You do wonder if the artist might be enjoying a private joke."
The gallery on Thursday opened a display showing x-rays of devotional paintings it has discovered underneath its portraits of two key Tudor statesmen. As well as a Virgin and Child under Walsingham, researchers found A Flagellation of Christ under the Queen’s lord treasurer Thomas Sackville.
The Walsingham portrait dates from the 1580s when Protestant England was isolated and supporting the war in the Netherlands against the Spanish.
“The Catholics are the absolute enemy at this period so the idea that you’ve got this wonderful devotional image underneath your portrait would probably be rather horrifying to him,” Cooper, the NPG’s chief curator, said. (Read entire article.)