Childhood

This latest blog has been my most difficult to date. I wanted to do a study of children in England during the 17th century, and while there are numerous examples I could use, they are, for the most part, restricted to a single demographic, which is children of the nobility or royalty. For obvious reasons, this section of society was the most able to afford to commission portraits of their children, so it has been very hard to find representatives of those in the lower classes or poorer families from this period. If readers can point me in the direction of any, please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post.

So with apologies for the somewhat one-sided view, I’ll start with with one of the most famous children of all at the start of the 1600s…

Charles I as Duke of York
Charles I when still Duke of York, by Robert Peake the Elder, 1605
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

 

Lady Mary Feilding
Lady Mary Feilding, as Countess of Aran, later Marchioness and Duchess of Hamilton (1613-1638), by Daniel Mytens, 1620

I like this one very much. I’ve never seen it before, and it’s quite unusual with the striking orange dress and feathered hair around the side of her face. Can any costume experts suggest what the white hair decoration would be made of? It looks to me like a lace headband, perhaps a comb, but as I know nothing about clothing in this period, I am happy to be corrected. Incidentally, for anyone interested in family connections, Lady Mary was a niece of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the favourite courtier of both King James and Charles I.

 

Browne family
A Family Group, called Sir Thomas Browne and his Family, perhaps in part by William Dobson, c.1640s(?), The Chatsworth House Trust

 

Princess Mary
Princess Mary, Daughter of Charles I, c.1637, by Van Dyck
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

3rd Viscount Cary

This is my favourite. I have seen this portrait by Cornelius Johnson described as Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (the subject of an earlier blog post), but this has to be wrong as Johnson was mainly working from the 1640s onwards, much too late to have painted King Charles’s wartime Secretary of State as a child. Another source says that this is Falkland’s son, Lucius Cary, the 3rd Viscount (1632-1649), which must be correct. Whoever the boy is, it’s a very endearing picture, complete with Johnson’s signature wide lace collar. I like that there is nothing behind or around him, and other than his hat, there are no distracting props to take your attention from the face or the pink colouring of his outfit.

 

Esme Stewart
Esme Stewart, 5th Duke of Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, by John Weesop, 1653
©historicalportraits.com

 

Esme Stuart and sister Mary
Esme Stewart, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and his sister Mary, by John Michael Wright, c.1660
(section of larger portrait including their mother, Mary Villiers, Duchess of Lennox
and Richmond)

 

Basil Dixwell
Sir Basil Dixwell, bt.(1665-1750), by Mary Beale, 1681

Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland

On the 20th September 1643, at the first battle of Newbury, King Charles’s 33-year-old Secretary of State was killed by enemy fire, having charged his horse at a gap in a hedge which was lined by the enemy’s musketeers. Many believe his actions were deliberate, a suicidal act by a sensitive poet unable to bear the burden of his position, and the bloody destruction of war, any longer. There are a number of surviving portraits of Falkland, many of which show a thoughtful but melancholy man. Unlike other paintings in which statesmen have the artist depict them as proud, often arrogant individuals of status and position, he is clearly not a man of war or violent ambition, but an intellectual more drawn to philosophy, writing and poetry.

I think this is shown very clearly in Van Dyck’s beautiful painting below.

Falkland by VanD
c.1638-1640 ©The Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement

He was also painted on more than one occasion by Cornelius Johnson:

Falkland CJ1
1635, ©Birmingham Museums Trust
Falkland CJ2
©National Trust, Montacute House

This one is attributed to John Hoskins:

NPG 6304; Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland attributed to John Hoskins

Watercolour on vellum, 1630s
©National Portrait Gallery, London

None of the images I’ve found of Cary are from the civil war period after 1642, and most are either copies of, or after, Van Dyck’s earlier original above. I’ve long wondered if he ever sat for Dobson, with whom he would almost certainly have been acquainted at Oxford. Given Dobson’s ability to capture the true character of his sitters (in my view better than Van Dyck, at times), I would imagine a portrait of the tragic Viscount Falkland might have been one of his most moving. If there is a Dobson ‘Holy Grail’, this is it!

If you’re interested in reading more about Falkland, there’s an old but readable biography by J.A.R Marriott, entitled “Falkland and his Times 1610-1643”, published in 1907 (copies are available on Abe Books). Recommendations for a more recent biography gratefully received. 🙂

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