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Restoration uncovers 600-year-old painting



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The image of John the Baptist that has been revealed in the Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The image of John the Baptist that has been revealed in the Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon.

AN astonishing 15th century painting has been uncovered by conservationists working to restore Stratford-upon-Avon’s historic Guildhall.

The discovery was made on one of the timber uprights during work to preserve the building’s medieval wall paintings.

The find was made accidentally when conservationists, who were cleaning the dirt from a later paint scheme, began to see the image coming through.

Experts have now identified the figure as John the Baptist and the image is part of a 15th century painting referring to motifs from the seal of the Guild of the Holy Cross.

The Guildhall is currently undergoing a £1.8million restoration which is set to be completed in time for the Shakespeare birthday celebrations in April. John the Baptist is shown with a halo above his head, holding a staff and book, and cradling a small lamb.

The painting measures around 40cm in height and is located on the building’s south gable.

Conservationist Richard Lithgow, who made the discovery, said: “To find this figure is highly significant and beyond any expectations we could have. “The scheme is what we would term a Trinity painting, with John the Baptist depicted alongside God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The image of John the Baptist that has been revealed in the Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The image of John the Baptist that has been revealed in the Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon.

“Whilst we knew that remnants of the picture remained intact, we were not expecting to see either a fully formed figure, or a figure positioned on one of the timbers, which has almost certainly helped it to remain as well preserved as it has.

“It is a very rare moment to find something so well preserved and as historically important as this painting of John the Baptist, which would have been created sometime between 1425 and 1450.”

Lincoln Clark, project leader, said: “It’s a very exciting find and it’s very prominent compared to a lot of the other paintings on that wall. “This picture adds another layer of interest to the building, medieval paintings are rare as it is and finds like this one are few and far between.”

Lincoln said conservationists were investigating the possibility of repositioning a new ‘smart glass’ display so that it covers the painting. When installed images of the paintings will be projected on top of the smart glass so visitors can get a better idea of how they look.

Ronnie Mulyrne, Trustee of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall, added: “It is astonishing that a work of art, more than 500 years old, can still, week by week, day by day almost, surprise and excite us with fresh discoveries.”

More than 400 people attended a series of behind-the-scenes restoration tours at the Guildhall earlier this month and this latest discovery will only heighten interest in the building in which Shakespeare was schooled.

When the Guildhall restoration is complete, the public will be allowed access to the building for the very first time.



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