In need of some TLC

I sometimes wonder what goes through the mind of a sitter, as he poses in front of his chosen artist, watching them make the preliminary sketches on paper, or the first brushstrokes on canvas. In the case of those painted in the 16th or 17th centuries especially, did they ponder where their likeness would find itself, hundreds of years later? Did he or she hope it would survive the centuries unscathed, or were they unbothered, distracted by the more pressing concerns of the day?

A painting is always made more  interesting when its own history, and not just that of the sitter portrayed, offers up a question mark about its past, and sometimes it’s the overlooked and forgotten ones that offer the best stories.

Joseph Williamson

This dirty and neglected gentleman is Sir Joseph Williamson (1633-1701), an English MP whose other appointments included, among others, Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, a Secretary of State, President of the Royal Society, and Keeper of the King’s Library at Whitehall. He also made an appearance in Samuel Pepys’ diary.

The seller claims the picture came from a private Bedfordshire estate, and was for many years left in storage, gathering dust and taking damage to its original antique frame. For a man with such varied and important roles in the running of both his locality and the country itself, he may not have been amused to see how his self-assured and self-important portrait ended up.

I’d be curious to know how the unnamed Bedfordshire estate came to own the picture, and if it had any personal connection to Williamson. If it did, surely that would be a sadder neglect than if it had been simply purchased at auction. He isn’t alone, though. There will be countless similar images sitting in vaults, attics or warehouse storage today, their sitters’ original hopes or intentions for their posterity now long-forgotten.

Yet Williamson is luckier than most. This painted impression of him may have spent its recent years in obscurity, but unlike other such sitters whose identities are lost forever, his memory has survived into the modern age and lives on in the Mathematical School in Rochester bearing his name. He was also married to a cousin of the king, and later buried at Westminster Abbey,  so perhaps in this case some dust and cobwebs wouldn’t upset him too much.  History hasn’t forgotten him after all!

Sir Joseph’s portrait is for sale HERE  at the current asking price of just £366, with Sir Godfrey Kneller suggested as the artist. I’m not familiar enough with his work to judge, although it does seem a little understated and modest in comparison to the one below that is by Kneller, copyright of the Royal Society.  Perhaps if the first had a serious clean, though, we may be surprised!

Joseph Williamson by Kneller

Advertisements

Sir Neville and Lady Catlin

This serious-looking couple are currently on sale together. Attributed to John Hayls and dated to around 1658, these pictures may have been marriage portraits for Neville Catlin, a landowner and politician from Norfolk, and his first wife Dorothea, a descendant of the famous Killgrew family.

NevillandLadyCatlin

Sadly the marriage didn’t last long, as Dorothea is said to have died early. Sir Neville, son and brother of Civil War Royalists, would marry twice more,  serving in the Norfolk militia at the Restoration, and later as Deputy Lieutenant for Norfolk and Suffolk. An opponent of the Catholic King James II, and of the repeal of penal laws against Catholics, Sir Neville was stripped of some of his offices, refusing to sit next to Catholics in Parliament when his posts were restored in 1688. He retired from politics in 1690, and died in 1702 at his home of Wingfield Castle in Suffolk.

A more extensive biography is available on the auction site HERE.

 

 

The Playwrights

During the late 16th and early 17th centuries, some of the greatest dramatists in the English language were at work in the London theatres. William Shakespeare wasn’t the only writer to see his plays come to life on the stage, yet today his fame vastly overshadows his contemporaries, and names such as Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher are (unfairly, to many minds) less familiar to the modern ear.

We may have heard of some of their works, such as The Knight of the Burning Pestle (Beaumont), or Doctor Faustus (Marlowe), but what did they themselves look like? An endless debate rages on over the true face of Shakespeare, with only a handful of portraits generally accepted as probably of the Bard. The most famous of these is known as the Chandos portrait, after a previous owner.

ShakespeareChandos
Produced around 1600-1610, it is claimed to have been painted from life, and may be by an artist named John Taylor, an important member of the Painter-Stainers’ Company. An interesting fact for your next pub quiz: this was the first picture purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in London, after it was founded in 1856. The portrait bears the record number NPG1.

The next most recognised and studied of the early playwrights must be Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, whose mysterious life and death often threaten to steal the dramatic thunder from the stories he produced on stage. Although he doesn’t quite fit the remit of a 17th century blog, having died a few years earlier in 1593, I think he warrants a mention as he was a close contemporary and professional influence on the early Jacobean theatrical circle.

Kit Marlowe
This anonymous portrait is said to be of Marlowe, although as with Shakespeare’s images, there is fierce disagreement as to the true identity of the sitter. The picture is owned by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where Marlowe was a student. It dates from c.1585, and is the only known painting with any arguable claim on his likeness.

John Fletcher (1579-1625) was one of the most important and prolific playwrights in Jacobean London, having written numerous plays in his own name, and in famed collaboration with Francis Beaumont. He is known to have also worked with Shakespeare and others. John Fletcher
This anonymous portrait of Fletcher was painted around 1620, and is the only known portrait taken from life. It is painted in oil on oak panel. It is on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

The supposed face of Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) is known mainly from this line engraving by George Vertue, the earliest surviving version dating from 1712 (©National Portrait Gallery). It was presumably copied from a lost – or hopefully just misplaced! – earlier portrait in oils.

Francis Beaumont

Finally, but by no means least in importance, we have Ben Jonson (1572-1637), the writer, poet, actor and literary critic, whose influence on  poetry and theatre since the 17th century means he is generally regarded as the most important English dramatist after Shakespeare.  The below portrait, painted c.1617 can be found at (yes, you guessed it!) the NPG in London. The artist is Abraham Blyenberch.

Ben Jonson

Other names that deserve a mention include Thomas Dekker, John Webster and Thomas Middleton, but I was unable to find good pictures or engravings of them. Suggestions welcome!

Picture of the Day

Portrait of a girl

This unidentified “Portrait of a Girl” is part of the Royal Collection, and dates from c.1615-1618. The collection attributes the picture to the British School, in the style of Paul van Somer (1576-1621). Although the frame states the sitter is James I’s daughter Elizabeth [Stuart], Queen of Bohemia, we can’t know when the inscription was added, and the Royal Collection gives no name, saying only that the picture was ‘formerly’ known as Elizabeth. No alternative identity has been suggested.

For comparison, here’s a portrait of Elizabeth at 7 years old in 1603 (© Royal Museums Greenwich), by Robert Peake the Elder. What do you think?

Eliz_bohemia_2

The Royal Collection

Two New Auction Finds

Henry Watkinson

Henry Watkinson (1628-1712) was Chancellor of York in 1664.  I was certain I’d not heard of him before, but in an odd little twist, when I started researching him the search engine led me straight back to this blog! It seems I posted a picture of his wife, Elizabeth Jennings, two years ago, when she too turned up at auction (see blog entry Hidden Gems, 16th Apr 2016). Henry’s portrait is attributed only to a painter of the English School in the latter half of the 17th century.

 

royalist

This unidentified man is listed only as a Royalist officer of the Civil War, by a 17th century artist of the English School, and a follower of William Dobson.

Pioneer Women of the 17th Century

Today is International Women’s Day, so it’s the perfect time to showcase two of the 17th century’s most memorable female pioneers.

Portraitist Mary Beale (1633-1699) was not only a talented painter, but she turned her skills into a successful business, becoming the family bread-winner and earning the praise of Richard Gibson and Sir Peter Lely.  She also turned her hand to writing, penning a manuscript called “Discourse on Friendship”,  four poems, and even an instructional guide to painting apricots.

Beale, Mary, 1633-1699; Self Portrait
Self-Portrait, c.1675. © St Edmundsbury Museum

Margaret Lucas (1623?-1674) was the sister of Civil War royalist officers John and Charles Lucas of Colchester, and married William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle. An intelligent and inquisitive woman, Margaret is today known as a poet, a philosopher, essayist, and playwright, turning her mind to topics such as gender, power, the sciences and romantic fiction. She is believed to be one of the first writers in what we would now call the science-fiction genre.

1665-margaret-duchess-of_med
Margaret Cavendish (nee Lucas), c.1665, by Sir Peter Lely

The Rope Dancer

During the 1660s, Londoners seeking daredevil entertainment could enjoy the acrobatic skills of a number of performance troupes, one of which included a ‘rope dancer’ named Jacob Hall, who had distinguished himself as a performer on the tight-rope.

Dobson, William, 1611-1646; Jacob Hall, Rope Dancer (active 1668-1683)
Jacob Hall, Rope Dancer (active 1668-1683), by a follower of William Dobson,
©Trinity College, University of Oxford

The shows promised dancing and vaulting on the ropes, with a variety of feats and activity and agility, including “doing of somersets [somersaults] and flipflaps, flying over thirty rapiers, and over several men’s heads, and also flying through several hoops.”

Mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary as boasting he had often fallen but never broken a limb, Hall was also a favourite of the Restoration court, with Charles II’s mistress, Lady Castlemain, the future Duchess of Cleveland, apparently falling in love with him after being neglected by the King.* He would be a regular visitor at her house, and received a salary for his favours.

He was at the peak of his fame in 1668, and would be memorialised in a number of late 17th century publications for ‘delighting London with his jumping’.

Source: Wikipedia

*Another narrator suggests the affair actually began at the encouragement of Charles himself, who considered the rope dancer a less embarrassing paramour for Lady Castlemain than Sir Henry Jermyn, whom he described as ‘the most ridiculous conqueror that ever was.’ I’d love to know more about that dispute!

 

Royal children?

This lovely pair are currently listed on an auction site together, with an attribution to Sir Godfrey Kneller. It is suggested they may be children of Charles II, namely the ill-fated James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, and his half-sister, Charlotte Jemima Henrietta Maria.

The date is around 1660.

CII

I don’t know whether or not the boy is indeed Monmouth, but I do love his dog!

Monmouth dog

There are close-up images on the auction site, including a couple of the odd shaped frames from the back.

View sale page

 

Exhibition update

I promised a reader I’d review the Charles I exhibition, which I was lucky enough to see on its opening day last Saturday. It has taken more than 350 years, but we are at last able to see for ourselves just why the loss of King Charles I’s art collection is so lamented. The Royal Academy and the Royal Collections Trust have put together a truly magnificent show, and no written review can really do justice to the effort that has gone into bringing these works together.

The cast-list for Charles’s collection includes many of the greatest names in art history. The 17th century is represented by, among others, Titian, Orazio and Artemesia Gentileschi,  Rubens, Mytens, Velasquez, and, of course, Charles’s favourite, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, whose works take up an impressive amount of wall-space. The great equestrian portraits of the King, brought together – possibly for the first time – convey the majesty and power Charles wanted his court painter to convey.

Also present, from the 15th and 16th centuries, are greats such as Titian, Mantegna,  Raphael, Tintoretto, Correggio, and Veronese.

C2

For an extra special bonus to all the wonderful artworks, one room is dedicated to the huge tapestries created at the Mortlake tapestry factory on the banks of the River Thames in London.

As a representation of the greatest European artists, you’ll be hard pushed to see another of this scale and quality, so you have until April to make it to this one!

20180205_194628

Opening next week…

A quick reminder that the long, LONG overdue exhibition of Charles I’s (mostly) reunited art collection opens next Saturday, 27th January, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

In a nice parallel of the way King Charles’s agents travelled the continent to source and buy the Western world’s greatest artworks during the 17th century, curators from the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Academy have spent two years travelling across Europe to persuade the great art institutions to send their paintings back to the UK on loan.

It is the first time the collection dispersed by Oliver Cromwell after the King’s death has ever been recreated, and it will surely be the last. Rubens, Titian and, of course, Van Dyck, are represented amongst the returnees, alongside pictures recovered by Charles II during the Restoration, which now form part of the Royal Collection.

The exhibition only runs until 15th April, so if you are anywhere near London in the next few months, don’t miss it!

Buy tickets

The Telegraph

%d bloggers like this: