And the Scots subsequently developed a particular genre of painting that has come to be known as the “vendetta portrait.” These were intended to commemorate injustices perpetrated on certain individuals. One such example was the gruesome painting seen here. It shows the disfigured corpse of James Stewart, Earl of Moray, who was murdered in 1591 by the Marquess of Huntly.
But the portrait that we’re concerned with was Vanson’s 1585 painting of John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. In keeping with the ups and downs that characterized the volatile politics of 16th-century Scotland, Maitland had spent time in prison. But by 1581 he was back in favor and became the Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, before being appointed Lord Chancellor.
And more than 400 years later, Vanson’s 1589 portrait of Maitland came under scrutiny at the Courtald Institute in London. Conservator Dr. Caroline Rae was employing a variety of techniques to unlock the secrets of the portrait. But it was the use of x-ray technology that would lead to the most exciting revelation.