This portrait of a gentleman, traditionally called ‘Leigh Symes’, was painted during the early 1670s. The composition and execution, in particular the extensive use of shell gold on the sitter’s cloak, are very close to the portrait of William Ducie, 1st Viscount Downe now in the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio [2004.251]. It has not been possible to identify the sitter, although he may be connected to the Leigh Baronetcy, of Stoneleigh in the County of Warwick, created for Thomas Leigh (d.1626).

Flatman was one of a group of ‘gentleman limners’, for whom taking commissions for miniature portraits or ‘limnings’ was not necessarily their primary income or interest. Almost ten years before this particular portrait was painted, in 1662, Flatman was called the Bar and had described himself as ‘of London, a gent’.[1] In this year he also contributed a verse for William Faithorne’s Art of Graveing and Etching.[2] Writing seems to have been the main creative passion...

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This portrait of a gentleman, traditionally called ‘Leigh Symes’, was painted during the early 1670s. The composition and execution, in particular the extensive use of shell gold on the sitter’s cloak, are very close to the portrait of William Ducie, 1st Viscount Downe now in the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio [2004.251]. It has not been possible to identify the sitter, although he may be connected to the Leigh Baronetcy, of Stoneleigh in the County of Warwick, created for Thomas Leigh (d.1626).

Flatman was one of a group of ‘gentleman limners’, for whom taking commissions for miniature portraits or ‘limnings’ was not necessarily their primary income or interest. Almost ten years before this particular portrait was painted, in 1662, Flatman was called the Bar and had described himself as ‘of London, a gent’.[1] In this year he also contributed a verse for William Faithorne’s Art of Graveing and Etching.[2] Writing seems to have been the main creative passion for Flatman, who, as a multi-faceted, well-connected and intelligent man, thrived in the productive, inventive atmosphere of the second half of the seventeenth century.[3] Flatman was very close to the Beale family, painting several portraits of the family, including Charles Beale senior[4] (husband to Mary) and his son, also Charles, whom he may also have instructed in the art of ‘limning’.[5]

In Flatman’s own self-portrait, sold at Philip Mould & Company in 2016 and dated 1662, he self-consciously styles himself as a dishevelled writer; in fact, he seems to have suffered from bouts of introspection, if not depression, and certainly here he presents himself as a ‘thinker’.

By the time the present work was painted in the 1670s, Flatman is likely to have taken some instruction in painting miniature from Matthew Snelling (1621-1678), also a ‘gentleman limner’. It is likely, as with other portraits of this period, that the sitter is wearing academic, professional or Court robes, the use of gold in the cloak suggesting a gentleman of high status.

[1] J. J. Foster described him as a ‘briefless barrister’ (J.J. Foster, Miniature Painters British and Foreign, (London, 1903))

[2] Published in 1662 by William Faithorne the Elder (c.1620–1691), the book was Faithorne’s translation of the Traité des manières de graver en taille douce, which had been written by Abraham Bosse in 1645

[3] Flatman was also an early member of the Royal Society, a group of like-minded natural philosophers who formed as an organisation in 1660, soon gaining royal approval.

[4] Re the two portraits of Chares Beale now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, [P13-1941] (1660) and [D95] (1662) and possibly the portrait thought to be Alice Beale, wife of the Rev Samuel Woodforde [P14-1941].

[5] A miniature painted by Charles of his mother (previously with Philip Mould & Co.) is dated 1679, three years after he was sent to Flatman to ‘learn to limne of him’ (Vertue, Notebooks, vol. IV, p.64).

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500 Years of British Art