This highly individualised portrait is indicative of the pains that Johnson took to paint the most idiosyncratic portrayals regardless of scale.

This delicately observed miniature by the oil painter Cornelius Johnson is typical of his work on this small scale. Born into a German/Flemish family in London in 1593, Johnson’s portraits are a unique mix of English taste and Netherlandish painting technique. As the writer Bainbrigg Buckeridge noted, ‘he wanted the true notion of English beauty, and that freedom of draught which the other was master of’.[1]Johnson was a highly successful portraitist of the highest echelons of society and shortly after the date of this present miniature, in 1632, he was appointed as one of King Charles I’s official painters.

Unlike many artists in oil, Johnson was able to work on any scale, including small works on copper which matched in proportion the miniatures on vellum by his contemporary John Hoskins the elder (c.1590-1665). While Hoskins worked both from the life and by copying large oils by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Johnson was able to supply his patrons with...

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This delicately observed miniature by the oil painter Cornelius Johnson is typical of his work on this small scale. Born into a German/Flemish family in London in 1593, Johnson’s portraits are a unique mix of English taste and Netherlandish painting technique. As the writer Bainbrigg Buckeridge noted, ‘he wanted the true notion of English beauty, and that freedom of draught which the other was master of’.[1]Johnson was a highly successful portraitist of the highest echelons of society and shortly after the date of this present miniature, in 1632, he was appointed as one of King Charles I’s official painters.

Unlike many artists in oil, Johnson was able to work on any scale, including small works on copper which matched in proportion the miniatures on vellum by his contemporary John Hoskins the elder (c.1590-1665). While Hoskins worked both from the life and by copying large oils by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Johnson was able to supply his patrons with works by his hand in both large and miniature formats. Small oils on metal were painted by many exiled artists from the Netherlands, and it was possibly Johnson’s assumed early training on the Continent that persuaded him to continue with this technique. Portrait miniatures flourished in England at this date, with Samuel Cooper (1607/08-1672) opening his studio just as Johnson was fleeing the English Civil War back to the relative safety of the northern Netherlands. Like Cooper, whose talent made him an internationally renowned artist, Johnson offered his patrons the very highest quality portraits on a portable scale. Johnson had strong familial connections with portrait miniaturists (called ‘limners’) – for example, the limner Isaac Oliver (b.c.1560/5) was godfather to Johnson’s nephew Isaac in 1616. Johnson would have been fully immersed in the demand for portrait miniatures and aware of their role in English culture.

The owner of this miniature by Johnson, Captain Twiston-Davies, also owned another miniature by his hand of Lord North. Examining this miniature for an article in the Burlington Magazine in 1932, Ralph Edwards noted ‘The miniatures between 1630 and his departure from England in 1643 are silvery and low in tone with transparent shadows, the carmines foiled by subtly graduated blues and greys. The modelling is sensitive, particularly around the mouth and eyes, and the hair is painted with a peculiar melting touch.’[2]These comments on Johnson’s technique in miniature still stand today and are applicable to this example from circa 1630. Here, Johnson has described with his brush the wispy beginnings of a reddish moustache and beard on his teenage sitter and has taken pains to highlight the folds of the cream silk through the slashed doublet. This highly individualised portrait is indicative of the pains that Johnson took to paint the most idiosyncratic portrayals regardless of scale.

[1]B. Buckeridge, An Essay Towards an English School of Painters, 1706

[2] R. Edwards, Oil Miniatures by Cornelius Johnson, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 61, No. 354 (Sep., 1932), pp. 130-133 (4 pages)

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500 Years of British Art