Restorer Removes Kylie Jenner-Style Lip Filler From a 17th-Century Portrait

Someone had plumped the lips and thickened the curls of British noblewoman Diana Cecil, who was considered a natural beauty in her day.

English Heritage’s paintings expert Alice Tate-Harte finishes conserving a painting of 17th-century noblewoman, Diana Cecil, as the charity revealed her true face after centuries of overpainting had hidden her features. Photo: courtesy of English Heritage.

Social-media influencers are not the only ones “dissolving,” or removing, their lip filler, commonly dubbed the “Kylie Jenner treatment,” in reference to the beauty mogul’s famous lip injections. The British noblewoman Diana Cecil, who lived from 1596 to 1654, was the great-granddaughter of a close friend and adviser to Elizabeth I, and considered a natural beauty in her day. But that apparently wasn’t enough to dissuade someone from enhancing Cecil’s features, years after her likeness was painted by artist Cornelius Johnson in 1634.

“Think Kylie Jenner’s penchant for fuller lips reflects a modern beauty phenomenon? Think again!” stated English Heritage, the charity that manages the National Heritage Collection, to which the painting belongs.

Workers for the institution said they uncovered alterations to Cecil’s appearance while removing a layer of aging varnish from the canvas surface. “As a conservator, I am often amazed by the vivid and rich colors that reveal themselves as I remove old, yellowing varnish from portraits, but finding out Diana’s features had been changed so much was certainly a surprise,” said collections conservator Alice Tate-Harte in a statement. The restoration also uncovered the date the painting was made, originally incorrectly attributed to 1638.

The full-length portrait of Cecil shows her in her early 30s, and was reportedly damaged from having been rolled up. That may explain why another artist later took the liberty of fattening Cecil’s lips and significantly changing her appearance, according to Tate-Harte. “The restorer certainly added their own preferences to ‘sweeten’ her face,” she added. “I hope I’ve done Diana justice by removing those additions and presenting her natural face to the world.”

Cecil’s face before treatment. Photo: courtesy of English Heritage.

In addition to her physical appearance, Cecil’s sumptuous blue gown has been brought back to life thanks to the removal of the stained varnish, revealing the artist’s use of dramatic lighting, reflected on the gown’s satin surface. Cecil’s fashionable dress reflects her family’s power and influence as members of the Jacobean court, and the 17th-century noblewoman married twice, first to Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, who died a year later, and then Lord Thomas Bruce, first Earl of Elgin.

The newly restored painting will go on display November 30 at Kenwood in London, which houses a second portrait of Cecil, by William Larkin, showing her when she was about 15. Both paintings are part of the Suffolk Collection, built over a period of 400 years and donated to the state in 1974.

 

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