The portrait of Sir John Popham, chief justice of the King’s Bench during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, returned to the HLS Art Collection this spring after extensive restoration, his scarlet robe redder than it has been in years. Popham, whose likeness now hangs in the Caspersen Room in Langdell Hall, presided over some of the most notable political cases of his day, including the treason trials of the Earl of Essex (1601) and Sir Walter Raleigh (1603). The oil-on-panel portrait (one of three paintings of Popham known to exist) was completed in 1602 by an unknown artist, and acquired in 1931 for HLS by Dean Roscoe Pound.
When the painting was sent to the Straus Center for Conservation at the Fogg Art Museum, the paint was flaking, and the varnish was badly discolored. Previous cleanings had worn away layers of paint and scoured away detail, some of which cannot be retrieved. But painting conservator Teri Hensick removed layers of discolored varnish and overpaint and “knit back together the image” using watercolors and other “reversible” paints. The eighteenth-century Kent frame was given new life by conservator Susan Jackson, who replaced missing rosettes and applied new gold leaf.
The School’s art curator, Steven Smith, says that the revived luster of Popham – as well as that of the newly restored seventeenth-century portrait of Thomas Conventry, keeper of the Great Seal – underscores how much other works in the Collection could benefit from a restorative trip to the Fogg.