April 2015

Our county’s historic close links with, and influences from, the Low Countries, has led to us curating a significant Dutch and Flemish art collection. The Listening Maid, attributed to Cornelius Bisschop (1630-1674), is a popular work with visitors and researchers, and referenced regularly by our Learning Team, but due to its condition has not been on display.


The scene depicted belongs to a type of ‘domestic listening picture’ formulated by the Dutch painter Nicholas Maes (1634-1693), to whom this picture was formerly attributed. Surface cleaning last year revealed Maes’ signature. Either attribution makes the painting important nationally and internationally, so this year became the time to answer these questions, and enable it to become displayable.


The signature before full cleaning


Infrared detail of the signature

This shows the signature is associated with two paint campaigns, one associated with carbon-based pigments which makes up ‘N. MAES: F/S’ and one which does not contain carbon and is linked to the ‘fecit: 1660’ and corresponds to an earlier signature.

Cleaning tests revealed a possible second signature beneath the later N. Maes signature. The tests also revealed some small amounts of original paint, but sadly they are illegible. It may have been that the original signature was removed during its history in order to replace it with a name that was more saleable at the time. The current attribution of Bisschop from art historical knowledge stands.

The other difference you will see when it returns from conservation treatment, is that the chandelier was not original, and underneath, a different shaped chandelier has been revealed. Overall, the painting will be much easier and enjoyable to view as the darkened, yellowed aged varnish will have been removed. We look forward to the painting being completed this year.

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