Detective work from the ‘flip side’ of history

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Studying the back of Nelli’s Annuciation (Palazzo Vecchio)

Called “virtuosa” by her contemporaries, Nelli possessed great technical ability. Nelli had a reputation for piety which no doubt made her paintings even more appealing to patrons. Vasari refers to her as “this revered and virtuous sister”. What Vasari stresses in his paragraphs about Nelli is her lack of “opportunity, as men do, to study and devote herself to drawing and portraying living and natural things”. What can the back of a painting tell restorers? Nelli was a self-taught artist; how much preparatory work did she do herself, and how much was created by ‘outside’ artisans. Considering she was a cloistered nun, the plot thickens!