The Lisle & Lucas Picture Puzzle – Part 1

In 1648, Royalist officers Sir George Lisle and Sir Charles Lucas were executed by Parliament for their part in the siege of Colchester. Following their deaths, in which outraged Royalists proclaimed them ‘martyrs’, their images (often more imagined than real) were printed, painted or engraved for newsbooks and pamphlets that related the controversial events in Essex.

In the 18th century, the engraver George Vertue produced these line drawings to illustrate a poster lamenting their deaths. (Lisle is on the left).

Lisle Lucas Vertue
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Vertue is said to have taken the likenesses from original paintings by William Dobson, which were themselves believed to have remained in the hands of descendants or acquaintances of the men, giving strength to their claim to be the authentic faces of Lisle and Lucas. Given that Lisle is known to have spent time in Oxford (and even lived in the same London street as Dobson, pre-war), it’s very likely he did sit for Dobson at some point, but as yet no painting resembling Vertue’s engraving has been located. There are a couple of paintings labelled as Lisle, however, including this one:

George Lisle 1

It went to auction in 1990 and the artist is unknown. The date, if taken from the life, is likely 1640s, but I’m certain it’s not a Dobson. There are troubling elements such as the hands, the right hidden behind that odd plumed helmet, and the left inelegantly fisted over what may be a faint sword pommel. This is not the source of Vertue’s engraving, and of the others I’ve seen (but don’t have an available image for) none are candidates either.

Elusive though Lisle’s true image may be, that’s nothing to the problems I’ve had identifying the real face of Charles Lucas. I’ll attempt to unravel that one for you in the next post. 🙂

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2 Comments

  1. This looks like a later painting to me. I’m guessing a bit, but the collar and sleeve just look post-1640s.

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  2. Hello! Thanks for the comments! Yes, the date for this one is tricky. I’ve always thought this picture to be a bit of a mess, to be honest. I’ve got a clearer copy from the 1990 auction catalogue, and looking closely there are all sorts of weird things going on, leaving me wondering if this was a genuine 1640s portrait that had been altered some years later, making the sitter look a bit out of his own time. That, or it was a purely imagined likeness painted after his death. If you look closely at the right cuff, just behind the ribbon, there’s a strange fold in the sleeve that might be an earlier cuff that was painted over. Also I think there’s been some over-work done in the area around his head, and around the left hand. I agree about the collar not quite fitting the (alleged) date. Of course it might not even be George Lisle at all…!

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