Mysterious Tudor masterpiece to be restored thanks to successful fundraising

A 16th-century portrait of an intriguing Tudor lady-in-waiting will soon be looking as good as new thanks to a generous donation from North West developer ForLiving.

The ‘Lady in a Court Dress’ portrait, much-loved by locals, usually hangs in the Great Chamber of Ordsall Hall, Salford’s Tudor house and museum.

The identity of the English Renaissance rose, with her extraordinary ruff and bejewelled dress, remains a mystery.

Salford-based ForLiving, the ethical landlord behind the riverside Dock 5 community a stone’s throw from the manor in Ordsall, has sponsored the conservation of the oil painting.

This comes on the back of a host events that have been held at the famous hall for people living at Dock 5.

The enigmatic portrait was bought by Salford City Council in 1958 in an auction sale of belongings from nearby Abney Hall in Cheadle, Greater Manchester.

Sadly, no more about the portrait was known then.

At the time, it had some restoration work done by the artist Jack Coburn Witherop, known for his scenes of Cornwall.

The oil on panel painting is attributed to a British School artist in the style of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (c.1561–c.1636), a Flemish painter who was particularly fashionable in the last decade of Elizabeth I’s reign.

Over Elizabeth I’s reign, portraits in England became more stylised and extravagant, encouraging painters to show wealth through the sitter’s clothes – such as the large lace ruff.

Other clues such as the floral brocade and heavy (possibly velvet) fabric of the dress also show that this was someone well-to-do. Was she one of Elizabeth I’s Maids-of-Honour? But, with no inscription, as paintings of the time sometimes featured, a name or exact age of the painting are still unknown.

The painting is now going through a meticulous 12-step restoration process at the Liverpool Conservation Centre by freelance painting conservator Rebecca Kench ACR to preserve it for future generations.

Staff have noticed that visitors to Ordsall Hall – popular for rumoured ghost sightings – have been missing the portrait. With work already started, Ordsall Hall is hoping to have the painting back up on display at the start of next year.

Peter Ogilvie, Curator of Salford Museums, said: We are delighted that ForLiving have generously agreed to support the repair of our much-loved painting ‘Lady in a Court Dress’. She has been much missed by visitors and staff alike and we cannot wait to see her fully restored and back in her rightful place at Ordsall Hall.”

Mark Edwards, Strategic Lead at ForLiving, added: “Art is for everyone, and it helps tell us who we are and where we come from.

“We’ve put people at the heart of every decision at Dock 5, so we are delighted to support a local museum with the restoration of a stunning painting that has been in the area for such a long time so that it can continue to bring pleasure to local people for many years to come.”

Timber-framed Ordsall Hall was built between 1509 and 1512 in the black-and-white style typically found in Cheshire.

Ahead of its time, it was the first house in the North West to feature the French quatrefoil (literally, ‘four leaf’) decoration. But only the best would do for the home that was supposed to welcome Elizabeth I, a visit which in the end never happened.

The beautifully preserved manor house had been lived in continuously from the 1100s up until the 1970s – including by the same family as at Tatton Hall – before a sale that saw Salford City Council make it into a museum in 1972.

Dock 5 has arranged a series of events at Ordsall Hall for tenants throughout the summer. For more information on reserving a state-of-the-art apartment, please visit their website.