His appointment as limner to the king in 1663 confirmed Cooper’s status as the pre-eminent miniaturist then working in Britain.

Henry Alexander, 4th Earl of Stirling was an important Scottish nobleman. The earldom had been established by his grandfather, William (1577-1640), who was awarded the title by Charles I (1600-1649) in the honours awarded to coincide with his coronation as King of Scotland. Like many ambitious Scots, the first earl had moved with James VI and I (1574-1619) to London, where he made his career as a noted poet and courtier, later serving as Secretary of State for Scotland. He was also an important figure in the early colonised history of North America, founding the Scottish colony in Canada today known as Nova Scotia. The coat of arms of the knights baronet of Nova Scotia that he persuaded James to found in 1624 remains the coat of arms of the province to this day.

The family would have been well known to Charles II (1630-1685) through the actions of the first earl who had dedicated his 1604 work...

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Henry Alexander, 4th Earl of Stirling was an important Scottish nobleman. The earldom had been established by his grandfather, William (1577-1640), who was awarded the title by Charles I (1600-1649) in the honours awarded to coincide with his coronation as King of Scotland. Like many ambitious Scots, the first earl had moved with James VI and I (1574-1619) to London, where he made his career as a noted poet and courtier, later serving as Secretary of State for Scotland. He was also an important figure in the early colonised history of North America, founding the Scottish colony in Canada today known as Nova Scotia. The coat of arms of the knights baronet of Nova Scotia that he persuaded James to found in 1624 remains the coat of arms of the province to this day.

The family would have been well known to Charles II (1630-1685) through the actions of the first earl who had dedicated his 1604 work Paraenesis to the young prince when it was republished in 1637 (the previous dedicatee, Prince Henry (1594-1612), having died since its first edition). Paraenesis was a guide to good rulership, in which Stirling expressed his belief that a wise prince should consult books, love virtue and seek good advice from trusted counsellors. Whilst these were not all lessons that Charles II heeded, he is unlikely to have forgotten this contact with the fourth earl’s grandfather at such a young and impressionable age.

The title passed to Henry Alexander via his father, the third son of the first Earl (the second earl, the infant grandson of the first earl through his eldest son, died only a few months after the first earl).

In part due to the vast sums accrued by the first earl in debts, his successors never again enjoyed the prominence at court that he had enjoyed in his own lifetime. Nevertheless, the family remained one of influence, as can be seen by the fact that the fourth earl is here painted by Samuel Cooper, the king’s personal limner.

As the nephew of court miniaturist John Hoskins the elder (c.1590-1665), Cooper was extremely well placed to become one of the most skilled and successful miniaturists of the age. In his youth, Cooper refined the methods that he had been taught by his nephew through intense study of the works of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). With his work being defined by an ambitious approach to composition and a sense of painterly flair, Cooper successfully brought the insights that he had gleaned form the work of Van Dyck to bear on his work in miniature. His appointment as limner to the king in 1663 confirmed Cooper’s status as the pre-eminent miniaturist then working in Britain. With Richard Graham (fl. 1695-1727) recording that he was known to ‘the greatest Men of France, Holland, and his own country, and by his Works more universally known in all the parts of Christendom’, Cooper held a place among the highest ranks of the British – and even European – cultural and intellectual elite. Charming and widely regarded, in the words of Charles Beale (c. 1660-1726?), as ‘the most famous limner in the world for a face’, Cooper became friends with many whom he painted. He died aged 64 at the height of his powers.

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500 Years of British Art