Zoomable Image of Portrait of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (c.1530-90)

Portrait of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (c.1530-90)

English School , Late Sixteenth Century

Portrait of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (c.1530-90)

English School , Late Sixteenth Century

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Oil on panel


33 ½ x 20 1/16 in (85 x 51 cm)


The Cure family (whose wax seal is affixed to the reverse); The Earls of Warwick, Warwick Castle, until c.1968; Norris Castle, Isle of Wight, until 2015

Technical Expertise:

Prof. Dr. Peter Klein, Dendrochronological Analysis Report, 13 December 2015

Ambrose Dudley’s iconography is sparse and only one other contemporary likeness of him is recorded...

This late-Elizabethan panel portrait of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick was until recently concealed by several layers of discoloured varnish and later overpaint. Now removed, it is clear that this portrait can be attributed to the same hand or workshop that produced a number of recorded portraits of English Garter knights at the turn of the seventeenth century. Other portraits from this group include those of William Cecil, Baron Burghley [sold at Christies, 17th November 1989, lot 135], Sir Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex [previously with Philip Mould & Co.], and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester [Yale Center for British Art, B1975.1.7].

The artist or workshop that produced these portraits was clearly familiar with the work of the leading portrait painters of that period, including most evidently Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, whose portrait of William Cecil in Garter robes painted c.1585 [Hatfield House], no doubt served as the composition-prototype for the portrait of Cecil and Sussex from the Garter group. It was quite common practice for artists and workshops to share tracings (or ‘patterns’) of compositions and head designs; Hans Holbein’s famous full-face head-type of Henry VIII from the Whitehall Mural, for example, was replicated by a number of studios throughout Henry’s lifetime and long after his death.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ambrose Dudley’s iconography is sparse and few period portraits of him survive. In fact, with the exception of a full-length portrait at Longleat House in Wiltshire, no other contemporary likenesses of him in oils are recorded, and instead his iconography is cluttered with a number of incorrectly identified portraits, most of which actually depict his brother Robert. There is a striking resemblance between the head-pattern seen in the Longleat portrait and the present work, and it is possible that they both derive from a now lost original prototype that was in circulation in the late-sixteenth century.[1]

Like the present work, the portrait of Robert Dudley at Yale bears the same Cure family wax seal on the reverse, confirming they were at one point in the same collection.[2] Given the absence of family records, it is difficult to ascertain for certain when the portraits of the Dudley brothers entered or left the collection of the Cure family, however the apparent age of the wax seals suggests they we together by the eighteenth century. The fact that these two Dudley portraits were once part of the same collection, and indeed may have once hung as part of a larger set, is quite significant as there are currently no recorded portrait sets from this period showing Garter knights. Portrait sets were incredibly popular during the late-sixteenth century although they generally portrayed historic kings and queens which served to validate and legitimise the pedigree of the existing monarch or owner.[3] Therefore, unlike a portrait set of monarchs which followed a clear chronological narrative, a portrait set of Garter knights would have been a celebration of the present not the past, with the viewer’s focus divided in equal part between the individual subject and the broader theme of the order itself and what it represented – loyalty to the crown. By displaying a set of garter portraits the owner would therefore have been declaring their commitment to solidity and unification.

Chivalric orders were a very useful political tool for monarchs who ruled during periods of turbulence, and their dissemination helped to strengthen support amongst the influential tiers of society. As with most chivalric orders, membership to the Order of the Garter, which was reputedly founded by King Edward III, was limited, in this case to just twenty-five knights not including the sovereign. The annual procession and feast, immortalised in Gheeraerts’ engraving from 1576 [British Museum], helped to strengthen the sense of unification between the knights and their sovereign and likewise, the process of degradation, reserved for those who rebelled, was equally public.

Although in later life Ambrose may have exemplified the type of loyal, trustworthy supporter that Elizabeth was so keen to cultivate, his early life was quite different, and in 1553, following the disastrous attempt to establish Lady Jane Grey as queen, Ambrose was imprisoned in the tower accused of treason and sentenced to death. Lady Jane Grey was married to Ambrose’s brother Guildford Dudley, a partnership orchestrated by their father John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, chief advisor to Edward VI in the last three years of his life. Although things went relatively smoothly to start with, support soon swayed in favour of Mary Tudor and in July 1553 Ambrose, along with his father John, surrendered in Cambridge and were arrested. Unlike his father John and brother Guildford, Ambrose, along with his brothers Henry and Robert, were spared execution and in January 1555 were pardoned though remained attainted. It was only after his service in the battle at St. Quentin in 1557 that the attainder against Ambrose was repealed, although all claims for his father’s estates and titled had to be forfeited.

Ambrose’s relationship with Elizabeth on her accession was considerably more stable and in early 1559 he was granted the manor of Knebworth Beauchamp in Leicestershire and was appointed Master of the Ordnance. On 25th December 1561 Dudley was created Baron Lisle and then, the next day, was made Earl of Warwick. That same year he was given Warwick Castle and given several other wealthy estates.

In 1562 Warwick was given command of the expeditionary force to Le Havre, to assist the Huguenots in battle but after the two French sides made peace and plague began to spread through his garrison, Warwick was forced to surrender. Although the English assistance was unsuccessful and Warwick had been badly injured in battle, his approach to the task was greatly praised by Elizabeth and in 1563 he was made a Knight of the Garter.

Warwick’s success against the rebels during the Northern Rebellion in late 1569 ensured a comfortable end to his long career; and as well as receiving further estates he was made chief butler of England and in 1573 appointed to the Privy Council. By the 1580s Ambrose’s health was in decline, caused in no small part by the leg injury he sustained in Le Havre, and on 21st February 1590, a few weeks after his leg was amputated, he died.

[1] It is possible that the Longleat portrait was the original template, although this is only known to the writer through a poor black and white image, making a judgement of quality difficult.

[2] We are grateful to John Tunesi of Beacon Genealogical and Heraldic Research and Hugo Capel-Cure for their assistance with the identifying the wax seal as that used by the Cure family.

[3] For a more thorough overview of the history of portrait sets in England see C. Daunt, (2015) Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England, 2 vols., Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Sussex.

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