In years gone past, a very large bank made lots of money and with that money, they hired an interior designer to convert their bland sky scraper into a very welcoming environment full of beautiful 18th century furniture, crystal chandeliers, lush oriental carpets and walls of fine paintings. The bank officials were delighted and the customers were suitably impressed. Business was good and everyone was happy!
Everyone except the federal government, who came in and took over the lovely bank for reasons we will not go into here. After much fussing on both sides, all those beautiful accessories were auctioned off at a public sale.
Our client attended that sale and bought his favorite painting that he had always admired at the bank. It was the portrait of an early Italian woman in rich clothes and lots of jewelry. The portrait was very striking, but it had condition issues, so he brought it to us to have it cleaned and tidied up a bit.
I began to clean the painting and color started to come off, This is very unusual for a painting that age. I proceeded very carefully and soon an eye began to appear. We called our client and told him that his Renaissance portrait was painted on top of an earlier painting. He came to the studio to have a look and decided, since the background had been only one color, to have me clean off all the background leaving only the portrait with the earlier painting of the figures behind. He was delighted and took the finished work home.
In a few weeks he brought it back and asked for the background to be painted over! It seems that a guest of his thought it was the stupidest thing he had ever seen! He obviously had not seen the same things we had seen!
After the death of our friend, the painting was again put up for sale and we were able to buy it for not a great sum, because portraits are not too popular in this part of the world.
I again cleaned off the background as well as the portrait to reveal a wonderful early painting of Saint Anthony and the Angel along with his book. It was quite common then, to paint over pieces of a huge religious painting, so that many time the canvas itself would be much older than the painting on the front. The rare thing about our Saint Anthony was the fact that it was just a smaller complete painting and not a section of a much larger painting.
After much scrounging around in Portland, we laid our hands on a period Italian Renaissance frame that fit the canvas perfectly!