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This pair of portraits, previously unidentified, may relate to William Craven, Earl of Craven and his support for King Charles I of England, his wife Henrietta Maria and his sister, Elizabeth Stuart, later Queen of Bohemia. Difficult to identify, due to their scale and generic features, they are nevertheless extremely rare, remaining as a pair, and likely in their original frames (with later alterations, including the pearls which hang from the lockets). Conventionally, a pair such as these, particularly with male and female sitters turned slightly to face each other, would represent a husband and wife.

The sitters suggested here for this pair are not a married couple. In fact, William Craven never married, possibly due to his devotion to Elizabeth Stuart. Wealthy and adventuress, Craven interrupted his studies when a teenager at Oxford to join the army of Prince Maurice of Orange. His connection to the Netherlands continued, when he travelled there again in 1629 and 1631. Again,...

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This pair of portraits, previously unidentified, may relate to William Craven, Earl of Craven and his support for King Charles I of England, his wife Henrietta Maria and his sister, Elizabeth Stuart, later Queen of Bohemia. Difficult to identify, due to their scale and generic features, they are nevertheless extremely rare, remaining as a pair, and likely in their original frames (with later alterations, including the pearls which hang from the lockets). Conventionally, a pair such as these, particularly with male and female sitters turned slightly to face each other, would represent a husband and wife.

The sitters suggested here for this pair are not a married couple. In fact, William Craven never married, possibly due to his devotion to Elizabeth Stuart. Wealthy and adventuress, Craven interrupted his studies when a teenager at Oxford to join the army of Prince Maurice of Orange. His connection to the Netherlands continued, when he travelled there again in 1629 and 1631. Again, there in a military capacity, he was commissioned to join the Marquess of Hamilton's force which was being recruited to help liberate the Palatinate. The force linked with the Swedes at Frankfurt and Craven distinguished himself by his personal bravery at the siege of Kruznach where he was wounded. The orange sash worn by sitter in the male portrait miniature of this pair is also an indication of his status and allegiance, as it was commonly worn by high-ranking officers, officials or members and supporters of the Prince of Orange and the House of Nassau.[1] It was at this time that Craven first encountered Frederick of Bohemia and his wife Elizabeth, of whom he became such a such a loyal supporter. If this portrait does indeed show Craven, it was likely painted circa 1642, when he settled in The Hague for eighteen years in the service of Elizabeth of Bohemia.

It is relatively unusual at this point in the seventeenth century to find portrait miniatures so clearly commissioned to be viewed as jewels. In England, Samuel Cooper was about to lead the way in the development of the portrait miniature, producing larger, more painterly images.[2] On the Continent, Cooper’s younger brother, Alexander, was producing the very opposite type of limning in terms of size and technique.

Working in the Netherlands at the court of the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia from the 1630s, Alexander produced finely detailed miniatures, often sized, as here, at no more than one inch high. Eminently wearable, these tiny portraits were also straightforward to transport and easily secreted away.[3] The artist of this pair of miniatures has clearly looked to Alexander Cooper for inspiration – they may even have been a pupil. The blue background, archaic by the 1640s, was frequently used by Alexander Cooper in his portraits, possibly in a self-conscious link to the English past masters of the art, including Nicholas Hilliard.[4]

If this pair does in fact show Craven and Elizabeth of Bohemia, they may indicate some wishful thinking on Craven’s part, as naturally such intimate pairing would normally represent a married couple.[5] There is no firm evidence to suggest that a romantic relationship ever took place between Craven and Elizabeth Stuart, but his loyalty to her is clear from the support and comfort that he offered. By the time that these miniatures were painted, Elizabeth’s husband, Frederick, King of Bohemia, had been dead for a decade, but Craven remained at her court, rumoured to be secretly married to the ‘Winter Queen’.[6] Returning to England in 1661 from exile, Elizabeth lived in one of Craven’s London houses while he drew up plans for her personal hunting lodge, Ashdown House, which was not completed at her death in 1662. Elizabeth left Craven her personal papers in her will, as well as her Stuart and Palatine portraits which were housed at Coombe Abbey.

Although this pair of miniatures must remain something of an enigma, they are a fascinating survival of a pair, likely commissioned to commemorate an important relationship and remaining unseparated over the course of 380 years.

[1] The use of the orange sash can be most clearly demonstrated in the painting in the collection of the Rjksmuseum, Amsterdam, currently attributed to Pieter Nason and dated circa 1660, showing four generations of the Princes of Orange: William I, Maurice and Frederick Henry, William II and William III [SK-A-855].

[2] See for example Cooper’s unfinished portrait of his wife, Christiana, in a square format; or the portrait of Van Dyck’s mistress, Margaret Lemon (Fondation Custodia, Paris).

[3] The most famous example of Alexander Cooper’s jewellery miniatures are those set into the bracelet in Gemäldegalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Berlin, inv./cat.nr M.566.

[4] The blue background is used in many of Alexander Cooper’s portraits, including, for example the miniature of Prince William V of Hessen-Kassel (1602-1637), sold Sotheby’s, London, Old Master and British Works on Paper, 4 December 2020, lot 92.

[5] There are paintings which include Lord Craven and Elizabeth Stuart in the same space – including one which shows Craven bowing over Elizabeth’s hand and another by Peter Lely called the Allegory of Love, showing Elizabeth and William surrounded by cupids.

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500 Years of British Art