Circle of Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661)
As the template of female beauty and fashion at the Stuart court, Henrietta Maria was highly influential to ladies at court, who modelled their real-life appearances and portrait representations on the queen...
We are grateful to Dr Erin Griffey for writing the below catalogue note.
Posed with one hand delicately pointing toward her heart and her other hand gently holding a pearl from her long necklace, the subject of this portrait seems to be signalling her virtue and, perhaps, her love. Her single earring and shorter necklace with pendant are similarly ornamented with pearls, which were commonly worn by women at the Stuart court to showcase both their status and their purity. This characterisation is enhanced by the broad expanse of alabaster skin exposed by her low-cut bodice, itself trimmed with fine white lace. Her purity is matched by her fertility, which is signalled by her green dress, the colour associated with spring and worn by Henrietta Maria annually for the May Day festivities in the 1630s. Her hair is adorned with flowers and foliage in her hair, which seem to be white foxgloves interspersed with olive leaves.
This small scale portrait seems to be from the ‘circle’ of the portrait painter and miniaturist Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661), who enjoyed patronage at the Stuart court and amongst the elite. Johnson’s paintings have recently been the subject of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, with an accompanying catalogue by Karen Hearn. Johnson is known to have painted miniatures on copper (this portrait, too, is painted on a copper support) instead of the more traditional vellum on playing card. This picture also shares his compositional affinity for a face placed low in the picture plane, with a substantial amount of space at the top of the picture. Based on comparisons with other dated works by Johnson and the hairstyle, this portrait seems to date to around 1631. In particular, it bears similarities to Johnson’s oil on panel portrait of Elizabeth Campion, 1631, in aspects of dress and hairstyle. However the handling of the dress in this small scale portrait on copper is much looser than Johnson’s autograph works. The connection with Johnson is however, undeniable.
The subject is almost certainly Queen Henrietta Maria, consort to King Charles I. As the template of female beauty and fashion at the Stuart court, Henrietta Maria was highly influential to ladies at court, who modelled their real-life appearances and portrait representations on the queen. For her 1625 Thames-side arrival into London on a royal barge, she wore green. And her trousseau was packed with pearls. The connections extend to the subject’s physiognomy, which bears a notable similarity to the portrait type created by Van Dyck in 1632 and seen in the portraits at Longford Castle and Windsor, with their comparable facial features and gently curved hands. Close comparison with portraits of Henrietta Maria by other artists of the same period, including David des Granges, John Hoskins and Hendrik Pot similarly bolster the identification here.
The references to love, fertility, greenery and flowers in this picture might be related to Ben Jonson’s masque about Platonic love performed at court in February 1631, Chloridia, in which Henrietta Maria starred with her ladies. With its sets and costumes designed by Inigo Jones, Henrietta Maria featured as Chloris, ‘queen of the flowers and mistress of the spring’ (line 129). The costume worn in this portrait is different from the costume studies produced by Jones for the masque, but its low décolletage and voluminous, slashed sleeves and pearl necklace warrant comparison. We do however know from marginal notes on one of Jones’s sketches that Jones suggested to Henrietta Maria the choice of ‘several fresh greens mixed with gold and silver’ for her costume. Thus one can tentatively suggest that the picture might have some link to Henrietta Maria’s role in this masque.
The prominence of the gesture with the right hand, in which the subject holds one pearl from those of her long necklace, is comparable to the portrait also attributed to Circle of Johnson of Lady de la Warre (Jamestown Settlement Galleries) and similar gestures are found in other portraits of elite women eager to showcase their virtue, with Robert Peake’s portrait of Lady Anne Pope a particularly fine example. A version of Van Dyck’s 1632 portrait of Henrietta Maria in white (at Cowdray Estate Settlement, West Sussex) shows the queen resting her right hand on her crown so that her fingers rest between pearls. Again, this correspondence provides a further link with Henrietta Maria. Finally, the addition of a large pearl pendant onto the shorter pearl necklace suggests a very high status sitter, and we know from other portraits that Henrietta Maria wore a similar necklace with a prominent pear-shaped pearl pendant.
Thus it seems that this small scale portrait was based on a Van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria or type thereof. Van Dyck and Johnson were of course contemporaries at the Stuart court, and indeed an entry in Abraham van der Doort’s c. 1639 inventory shows that Johnson produced a portrait of the queen after one by Van Dyck:
Item a Prospective peece painted by Hookgest and the Queenes Picture therein at length don by Cornelius Johnson whereof the Clothes are not as yet finished [the qins fas is vinist bij dat is in somrset haus boffte chim auff st antoni Vandijk].
This fine portrait carries a host of associations that position it firmly within the halcyon days of the Stuart court in the 1630s, artistic associations with Cornelius Johnson but also Van Dyck’s early portrait type of Henrietta Maria; Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’s masque, Chloridia and Henrietta Maria’s starring role as Chloris; chastity and fertility; pearls and flowers; nature and love.
 Cornelius Johnson (London, 2015).
 This sketch and others related to it are in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth. Reproduced in Erin Griffey, On Display: Henrietta Maria and the Materials of Magnificence (New Haven and London, 2015), p. 19.
 Oliver Millar, ed., ‘Abraham van der Doort’s Catalogue of the Collections of Charles I’, The Thirty-seventh Volume of the Walpole Society (1958), p. 158, no. 9, specified as 20 x 18 inches, currently in a Private Collection. Reproduced in Hearn, Cornelius Johnson, p. 27, no. 16.