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For many of the works shown in Backstories, the path from the artist's studio to the exhibition has been an unpredictable journey. Some occupied places of honor in the collections of figures like Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin; some remained hidden in storage for many years; and others have moved around the world, from country to country and collection to collection. This rich history is only occasionally apparent on the "face" of a work—a surface that conservators strive to protect from signs of aging. The back of an object, however, may tell a different story. Here, the accumulation of inscriptions, stickers, and stamps can reveal fascinating information about a work and its past.
Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (recto), c. 1629–30
Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (verso, detail), c. 1629–30