Jonson makes no attempt to obey the rules of Baroque and instead sensitively depicts his sitter in complete honesty...
Cornelius Jonson was one of the most celebrated English portrait painters of the early seventeenth-century and his precise, meticulous portraits reflect the spirit of the arts in
prior to the arrival of the more flamboyant Baroque style.
Jonson was the first English painter (he was born in London of Flemish parents) to leave a substantial body of signed works, and as a result his oeuvre has been relatively easy to identify. He is thought to have begun his independent practice in London, in about 1618, after having trained in Holland, an unsurprising move given the lack of suitable masters in Stuart England. As a result, even Jonson’s earliest pictures display a level of continental sophistication not often seen in the works of English Jacobean artists. And in a society that relished ‘conspicuous consumption’, and thus the display of expensive costumes, Jonson’s Dutch realism and sense of likeness proved popular.
In 1632, the same year Van Dyck arrived in England, Jonson was sworn as the King’s Painter and his portraits after this point show reluctant influences from his Flemish colleague, especially in his large full-lengths which gained greater elegance and power. Ultimately however, Jonson’s straight-talking style and clear refusal to conform with the flashy swagger-portraits of Van Dyck, worked against him, and in 1643, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Jonson left for Holland where he remained until his death.
The present work acts as a powerful example of the more restrained style of portraiture present in early to mid-seventeenth century England which is all too often relegated in the light of the more exuberant Flemish style. Painted in 1634, two years after Van Dyck’s arrival, Jonson makes no attempt to obey the rules of Baroque and instead sensitively depicts in complete honesty his sitter against a plain wall, and without the distracting trappings of backdrops and flowing draperies.