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!

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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

Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby

In February 1644, Parliamentarian forces besieged Lathom House in Lancashire, one of the last remaining Royalist strongholds in the county.  The defence of the castle by its defiant mistress, Lady Stanley, become one of the famous events of the English Civil Wars, when for three months, the Countess, in the absence of her husband,  who was away defending the Isle of Man, repeatedly refused to surrender her home, and instead fortified the castle against the enemy.  The siege was broken when Royalist help arrived in May,  led by the King’s nephew, Prince Rupert.

She fled to the Isle of Man, but after her husband’s capture at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and his subsequent beheading, she surrendered the island to her enemies, and in the words of an 18th century writer, became  “the last person in the three kingdoms, and in all their dependent dominions, who submitted to the victorious rebels”.

The below portrait of Lady Stanley is said to date from the 17th century,  and is attributed to a follower of Van Dyck. (source: ebay)

CountessofDerby

A woman of noble birth – the daughter of a French nobleman, and granddaughter of William I, Prince of Orange – the Countess would endure great trials following the war, with the execution of her husband, James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, leaving her widowed with 5 children, and a seemingly endless legal fight with Parliament over the seizure and dispersal of her estate. She claimed be ‘the only woman that ever was sequestered for acting on that side to which her husband adhered,” and complained she was being treated more severely than others for her “crazy life”.

james_seventh_earl_of_derby_his_lady_and_child
James Stanley, Lord Strange, Later Seventh Earl of Derby, with his Wife, Charlotte, and their daughter, c. 1636, Anthony Van Dyck. ©The Frick Collection

Despite these struggles, Charlotte survived until 1664,  with Sir Peter Lely capturing a last image of her a few years before her death.

Charlotte,_Countess_of_Derby_by_Sir_Peter_Lely 1657
Portrait after Sir Peter Lely, based on a work of 1657. ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Richard Gibson (1615-1690)

Whenever people talk of miniaturists, the first names that jump to my mind are usually Samuel Cooper or Nicholas Hilliard, but I’ve been learning about another who flourished in the  17th century, born under the reign of James I, and enjoying a career that survived Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and Charles II, before ending in the time of William and Mary at the turn of the next century.

220px-Richard_Gibson_by_Sir_Peter_Lely
Richard Gibson by Peter Lely, painted 1658, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Known as “Dwarf Gibson”,  standing at just 3’10” tall,  Richard was a lifelong courtier, and also a talented artist who studied under Francis Cleyn,  director of design at the Mortlake Tapestry Works.¹   As something of a celebrity in the court of Charles I, he married one of Queen Henrietta Maria’s serving ladies, Anne Shepherd (also a dwarf),  who was given away by King Charles himself. Gibson was also the subject of poems by Andrew Marvell and Edmund Waller. Richard and Anne would have nine children, three of whom also became painters. The best known, daughter Susan, also painted miniatures.

In later years, Richard remained an important figure at Court, being appointed drawing-master to Princess Mary and Princess Anne, and travelling to the Netherlands with Mary on the occasion of her marriage to William of Orange.

Anne Shepherd 1638 vd
“Portrait of Mary Villiers, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, with her dwarf Mrs. Gibson”, by Anthony Van Dyck, 1638. ©Los Angeles County Museum of Arts

While Richard and his wife appear in several large canvases by other hands, his own works were primarily miniature portraits, his technique “characterized by the thick pigment and parallel striations that give his work an impastoed quality”.² His sitters included the highest members of English Court and society.

Barbara Villiers
Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709)

 

Anne Hyde
Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (1637-1671)

 

Unknown gentleman by Gibson
An unknown gentleman

 

unknown woman by Gibson VandA

Unknown woman, perhaps Elizabeth Capel, Countess of Carnarvon
©V&A

Unknown boy by Gibson
Unknown boy, ©V&A

 

¹) Cleyn is also said to have had a hand in training William Dobson, who was curiously claimed as the painter of a Cromwell portrait sold at a late 17th century auction, under the name “Dobson the Dwarf”. Clearly there was a bit of a mix up in attributions here, but as Royalist Dobson is unlikely to have ever painted Cromwell, and Gibson painted primarily miniatures, it’s doubtful the said painting had anything to do with either.

²) Richard Gibson, Grove Dictionary of Art

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