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Archaeology & History

Eerie 'demon' reappears following restoration of 18th-Century painting

By T.K. Randall
November 8, 2023 · Comment icon 2 comments

The Death of Cardinal Beaufort.
The inclusion of the 'demon' was considered controversial at the time. Image Credit: National Trust
The creepy figure had been hiding beneath layers of paint and varnish in a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Entitled 'The Death of Cardinal Beaufort', the painting, which was created in 1789, depicts a scene from Shakespeare's Henry VI Part II in which the power-hungry cardinal is on his deathbed.

"O! beat away the busy, meddling fiend that lays siege unto this wretch's soul," King Henry said.

Sir Reynolds had originally painted the piece showing an actual literal fiend in the form of a demonic creature lurking in the shadows just behind the cardinal as he lay dying.

At the time, however, the inclusion of an imaginary creature stirred up a great deal of controversy, with one critic arguing that it was "too ludicrous and puerile to escape censure".
"It didn't fit in with some of the artistic rules of the times, to have a poetic figure of speech represented so literally in this monstrous figure," said John Chu of the National Trust.

"When it was first shown at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1789 it generated more controversy than any other work on show."

While the renowned painter didn't actually paint over the demon himself, centuries of degradation and layers of varnish eventually caused the figure to disappear from the image.

It wasn't until the painting recently underwent restoration work that the long-lost demon appeared from the gloom once more, taking pride and place behind the cardinal as Reynolds had always intended.

Source: BBC News | Comments (2)

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