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Two halves of a 17th-century family portrait have been reunited

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In 1626, a father and son sat for a portrait. The father rests in an armchair sporting a fancy mustache, a goatee, ruffled collar around his neck. The son poses beside him with rosy cheeks, a red ribbon and elaborate lacy cuffs.

ANGELA JAGER: You can see in the way that they are dressed, this is a very wealthy father and son.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Angela Jager curates old master paintings at the RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History. She says the artist, Cornelis de Vos, was one of the top portrait painters of his day.

JAGER: He was very sought after, so if you could get him to portrait your family, then you were a wealthy and influential family.

KELLY: But there's something missing from this portrait according to Jorgen Wadum, a consultant at the Nivaagaard Collection in Denmark.

JORGEN WADUM: The father and the son that are so affectionately holding hands, it looks like a unity in itself. You could easily imagine that this was a finished painting if you didn't have that extra-careful eye.

KELLY: That extra-careful eye led the two to pay special attention to something in the lower right-hand corner of the portrait.

WADUM: There were a couple of knees covered by a black-striped dress in the lower corner. And we could immediately see that there is a story here that we don't know much about yet.

SHAPIRO: They teamed up to investigate this story and found evidence the portrait had been sliced in two sometime in the mid-1800s, perhaps due to damage.

KELLY: A report about a restoration of the work decades earlier gave them another clue. It revealed that hidden under the paint in that corner was a woman's hand.

WADUM: Slender fingers, a couple of rings in her fingers, and she was holding beautifully embroidered gloves in her hand with a red lining.

SHAPIRO: They began searching the painter's repertoire for a portrait of a woman missing her right hand, of course. And eventually, they came across one titled "Portrait Of A Lady."

WADUM: It's a portrait of a lady sitting against a background with a garden to one side and some trees that matches perfectly with the painting that we have here. And when even the background, the sky matched so perfectly, then we were pretty sure that now we've discovered her.

JAGER: Of course, Jorgen called me and said, look at your email. I think I found our missing woman.

SHAPIRO: Even better? Her portrait was for sale.

JAGER: So this opened up the opportunity for the museum to actually purchase her and reunite the family.

KELLY: The paintings now hang side by side at the Nivaagaard Collection, the family reunited after nearly two centuries apart. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ivy Winfrey
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.