Portrait of Mary Tichborne (b.1541)
Master of the Countess of Warwick
“The present picture is an exceptional survival from the sixteenth century, and represents one of the finest small panel portraits of the period.”
Oil on panel
16 1/8 x 11 inches, 41 x 28 cm
The Hon. Berkeley Thomas Paget (1780-1842);
By descent to Mark John Paget JP (1864-1938), 9thson of Col. Leopold Grimston Paget (1824-1892);
By whom sold Christie’s, London, 28thJune 1935, lot 114, as Hans Eworth;
Christie’s, London, 21stNovember 1980, lot 75, as Master of the Countess of Warwick (withdrawn);
English Private Collection.
Occasionally, pictures survive in such good condition that they appear almost disarmingly fresh and modern, so attuned is our eye to looking at works damaged by dirt, abrasion and neglect. The present picture is an exceptional survival from the sixteenth century, and represents one of the finest small panel portraits of the period. The portrait is firmly attributable to the artist of a number of related works from the 1560s known today as the Master of the Countess of Warwick, and appears to be the best surviving work by that hand.
Although a lack of documentary evidence, to say nothing of a dearth of signatures, can make attributing English sixteenth century portraits difficult, the painter identified as The Master of the Countess of Warwick appears to have a fairly distinctive style.Sir Roy Strong, in his book The English Icon, assembled a collection of eight works of comparable quality from the 1560s, named after the c.1569 portrait of Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick [Woburn Abbey].Apart from two large group portraits, all the works selected by Strong show female sitters at half-length, and all turned to the left. Perhaps the best known is the colourfully painted 1569 Portrait of a Lady at Tate. The facial features in Strong’s grouping all show a delicate flush of colour in the cheeks, boldly painted eyes, sharply drawn mouths, and a tendency to emphasise the head in proportion to the body. The costumes are carefully delineated, reflecting the importance of conspicuous consumption in portraiture at the time, with immense care over the tiniest details. The costume and jewellery in the present painting are the best preserved of all the ‘the Master’s’ works, and show the extent to which the black pigments (always the most vulnerable to over-cleaning) have remained intact over the centuries. The central jewel, intricately painted with gold and madder, and most likely containing a miniature, is also well preserved, as are the elegantly modelled hands.
The inscription, which retains its original layer of shell gold, identifies the sitter as the wife of a Thomas Potter, and being aged twenty-three in 1565. On 14thNovember 1559, a Mary Tichborne of Edenbridge married Thomas Potter of Well Street at Westerham Parish Church in Kent. This Mary was the daughter of Richard Tichborne, and born in 1541, so must be the sitter in the present portrait. Her mother was Thomasin Tichborne, née Seyliard. The Tichbornes were originally a prominent Hampshire family, and we can judge from Richard’s subscription of £5 towards Henry VIII’s ‘Loyal Loan’ in 1542 that he was relatively prosperous. A monument to Thomas Potter at Westerham records that he was a Justice of the Peace in Kent for ‘about fifty years, continuing the whole course of his like liberall and bountifull to the poore, constantly and painefully studious of Divinitie, Law, and Phisick…’ The monument, which features a figure of the kneeling Mary Tichborne, also records that she was ‘a very religious and virtuous gentlewoman’. They had four children; a son Nizell, who died at the age of 21, and three daughters, two of whom, Lucrece and Ursula, died in their infancy, and Dorothy, who married Sir John Rivers, 1stBt (1579-1651), the son of Sir George Rivers, sometime MP for East Grinstead during the reign of Elizabeth I.
There is of course no evidence to suggest that the painter should not be called ‘The Mistress of the Countess of Warwick’. For example, the court artist Lavinia Teerlinc, though known primarily as a miniaturist, may have worked on a larger scale.
Roy Strong, ‘The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture’ (London & New York, 1969), p107-114.