Detail from the 15th-century artwork depicting Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Student's research leads to restoration of northern Renaissance masterpiece

Barney Weston, 30.06.2015
AIM grant to fund conservation and redisplay of artwork
Research by a student from the University of Manchester has led to a "misunderstood" German Renaissance painting being restored and put back on display in a museum.

Anna Rhodes, who is studying for an master's in art history and visual studies at the University of Manchester alongside working as a collections manager for Macclesfield Museums, had been researching an essay for a course module on the northern Renaissance when she recognised the significance of the piece.

Having initially been part of the inaugural exhibition of West Park Museum in Macclesfield when it opened in 1898, the painting was titled The Virgin Mary Releasing a Soul from Purgatory at the Intercession of King David. The artwork was displayed throughout most of the last century with this interpretation.

But Rhodes discovered that the painting depicts Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian saint who was martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius. It is now believed to have originated from the Nuremberg region of Germany.

Edward Wouk, from the university’s school of arts, languages and cultures, who taught module, said the painting "was essentially totally misunderstood and overlooked".

He added: "Her outstanding research has changed our understanding of when the painting is made, where it was made, for whom it was made, and crucially, what it represents.”

Rhodes has secured a conservation grant from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), supported by the Pilgrim Trust, to clean, conserve and redisplay the artwork.

"The AIM committee was delighted to be able to fund the conservation work required for this very important painting, which will enable it to be put on long-term display, for the public to enjoy," said Tamalie Newbery, the executive director of AIM.

The painting will be back on display at West Park Museum in November.

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