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English School 1613-19
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English School 1613-19

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Head and shoulders portrait of a Gentleman wearing a black embroidered doublet and white straight-fronted ruff

 

Oil painting on oak panel in a painted oval size 56 x 43 cm., and contained within a carved and silvered Carolean style frame

 

Inscribed with sitter's age (AEte 39) and dated (Anno) 1619. (See note below)

 

The sitter in this portrait wears the fashionable straight-fronted lace ruff of the early years of the second decade of the seventeenth century, epitomised by such portraits as the portraits attributed by William Larkin and c.1610 (Roy Strong (1969), The English Icon pp. 327-8 nos.249-51)

The years 1613-1619, the dates on the present painting, had been a watershed for English painting, as a whole generation of Elizabethan and Jacobean painters died: John Bettes II and Rowland Lockey in 1616; Isaac Oliver in 1617; and Robert Peake, William Larkin and Nicholas Hilliard in 1619. These were the painters who represented the courtly, hieratic and recherché style of the late Elizabethan age: what was soon to follow was the new naturalism of such painters as the imigrees Paul van Somer and Daniel Mytens and the English-born but probably Dutch-trained Cornelius Johnson. The present painting is thus on the cusp of these two disparate trends in British art.

It is clear that the painting must have been started in 1613, the date which can be seen in the pentimento of the date underneath 1619 on the upper left inscription, when the idiosyncratic collar would have been at the end of its fashion. At this point the sitter's age is given as 34. When the inscription was re-done in 1619, six years later, the sitter's age is given as 39. We may draw the implication from this that the inscription is giving us the actual age reached by the sitter, rather than the formula of “in the nth year of his age”. We may thus conclude that the sitter had been born in 1579, and that he had not yet reached his 40th birthday when the painting was re-dated 40 years later.

It is curious that such a long disparity should be clear on the dates of the picture. Several possible conclusions are suggested, perhaps the likeliest of which being that the picture was painted in 1613, but not collected until six years later, when the artist changed the inscription to suit his client's then current age. It is also possible that the picture was started in 1613, but not finished until 1619, although it would be unusual to put the age and date on the painting before the portrait itself had been finished. What is clear is that the type of ruff depicted being worn by the sitter was already out of fashion by 1619.