Until recently, the identity of both the artist and subject of this striking work were unknown, however, recent research has confirmed the artist as John Baptist Closterman, a successful portrait painter working in England at the turn of the 18th century, and the subject to be Lady Dorothy Manners, Countess of Gainsborough. The identification was established following the discovery of another portrait of Lady Manners by Closterman in the collection of the Earls of Gainsborough, which is based on the same head-type.[1]  Although details on the life and career of John Baptist Closterman are scarce, it is generally assumed that he moved to England from Osnabrück sometime after the death of John Riley in 1691 and initially worked in collaboration with his brother John, a portrait painter who by this date was well established in London.[2] That John Baptist was certainly in England by 1693 is confirmed by recently discovered records from the parish of Barkham in Berkshire, which...

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Until recently, the identity of both the artist and subject of this striking work were unknown, however, recent research has confirmed the artist as John Baptist Closterman, a successful portrait painter working in England at the turn of the 18th century, and the subject to be Lady Dorothy Manners, Countess of Gainsborough. The identification was established following the discovery of another portrait of Lady Manners by Closterman in the collection of the Earls of Gainsborough, which is based on the same head-type.[1]



Although details on the life and career of John Baptist Closterman are scarce, it is generally assumed that he moved to England from Osnabrück sometime after the death of John Riley in 1691 and initially worked in collaboration with his brother John, a portrait painter who by this date was well established in London.[2] That John Baptist was certainly in England by 1693 is confirmed by recently discovered records from the parish of Barkham in Berkshire, which reveal that on 1 July 1693 John Baptist married a lady named Margaret Lor. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is a christening record dated 15 May 1693 from St. Bride’s Fleet Street for a ‘John Cloysterman’, son of John Closterman and Margaret. There can be little doubt that this record refers to a son of John Baptist[3], in which case he was in England by mid-1692 at the latest. John appears to have been the only child born out of wedlock, although John Baptist and Margaret appear to have had two further children together; Hannah (perhaps named after his brother’s wife) christened 28 January 1698 at St Stephen Walbrook, and Catherine, christened 15 November 1711 at St Paul’s, Covent Garden. There is no record of John Baptist’s death, although it was probably soon after 1713, when his name is entered then crossed out in the Covent Garden Poor Rate Book.[4]



This portrait of Lady Dorothy Manners, Countess of Gainsborough was probably painted shortly after her marriage to Baptist Noel, 3rd Earl of Gainsborough (1684-1714) on or around 13 February 1707. The jasmine, growing from the trunk of the tree to upper left of the canvas was a common attribute in portraits of this period, symbolising love, beauty and sensuality, whilst the lamb alludes to Saint Agnes, the patron saint of virgins. In the background of the composition is Belvoir Castle, childhood home of Lady Manners, who was the daughter of John Manners, 1st Duke of Rutland and Hon. Catherine Noel. The complex compositional design consisting of multiple symbolic and topographic elements is typical of John Baptist Closterman’s work, and can be observed in many of his portraits of the Rutland family.

[1] M. Rogers, John and John Baptist Closterman: A Catalogue of their Works, in The Walpole Society, vo.49 (1983), p.273, pl.73

[2] An entry in the day book of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury dated 23 July 1700 confirms he employed both John and John Baptist Closterman at St. Giles’s in Dorset. See J. D. Stewart, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: some documents’, Burlington Magazine, CVI (1964), PP. 306-9

[3] This record does not relate to John Baptist’s brother John, who married Hannah Ramsey (d.1702) on 25 September 1686

[4]J. D. Stewart, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: some documents’, Burlington Magazine, CVI (1964), PP. 306-9

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500 Years of British Art