This brilliantly naturalistic portrait of a young red-headed gentleman in armour was commissioned during the Interregnum, just three years before King Charles II returned from exile and restored the monarchy to England. Although it is not possible to at this stage to identify the sitter, his armour is a sombre reminder that the English Civil War, which had ended with King Charles I’s execution in 1649, was a recent memory.

Contrary to popular opinion, the 1650s were not a cultural wasteland in England under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanical rule. Portraiture in particular flourished, with the brilliant artist John Michael Wright (1617-94) returning to London in 1656 after almost a decade working abroad. David des Granges, who had followed King Charles II to Scotland in the early 1650s, also returned to London in 1658, advertising himself as the practitioner of ‘the Art of Miniature or Limning, by the Life or Copying, approved to be none of the worst, if not answerable...

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This brilliantly naturalistic portrait of a young red-headed gentleman in armour was commissioned during the Interregnum, just three years before King Charles II returned from exile and restored the monarchy to England. Although it is not possible to at this stage to identify the sitter, his armour is a sombre reminder that the English Civil War, which had ended with King Charles I’s execution in 1649, was a recent memory.

Contrary to popular opinion, the 1650s were not a cultural wasteland in England under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanical rule. Portraiture in particular flourished, with the brilliant artist John Michael Wright (1617-94) returning to London in 1656 after almost a decade working abroad. David des Granges, who had followed King Charles II to Scotland in the early 1650s, also returned to London in 1658, advertising himself as the practitioner of ‘the Art of Miniature or Limning, by the Life or Copying, approved to be none of the worst, if not answerable in some measure to be the best.’[1] Cromwell himself used portraiture as a promotional tool just as his royal predecessors had done, employing John Hoskin Senior’s nephew, Samuel Cooper (1607/08-72) to paint his portrait ‘warts and all’. Portrait miniatures continued to be commissioned from artists who remained diplomatically neutral in a politically unstable climate. They were an established part of life in the mid seventeenth century – often a celebration of a betrothal or used in mourning – and modest enough to be entirely acceptable to the new Puritan regime.

By 1657, the date of this portrait, the name ‘Hoskins’ had been synonymous with highly sophisticated court-centric portrait miniatures, spanning the reign of Charles I and then smoothly rolling into Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector. The existence of a signed self-portrait by Hoskins’s son, also called John, has allowed for a revision of miniatures signed with the ‘JH’ monogram after 1645 as by the younger man.[2] So successful was John Hoskins senior as an artist, partially due to his close relationship with the famed artist Anthony van Dyck, whose paintings he often interpreted in little, that the continuation of the name, and technique, from father to son may have inspired confidence in patrons.

Hoskins senior (c.1590-1664/5) was also the uncle of Samuel and Alexander Cooper, the former eventually eclipsing his uncle with his internationally recognised success. Both Hoskins senior and junior often included architecture amongst the more general topography in the background of his miniatures, and it is possible that the simple outline of buildings in the present miniature could depict the estate of the young man. Interestingly it looks to be of a ruined house and may have been one of the many buildings destroyed or damaged during the fighting of the English Civil War.

[1] Mercurius Politicus, 22–29 July 1658, 701, as quoted in Helen Pierce, "“The Bold Adventure of All”: Reconstructing the Place of Portraits in Interregnum England", British Art Studies, Issue 16, https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-16/hpierce

[2] Collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury. For further discussion see Stephens, Richard. "The Hoskins Family of Limners: A New Document." The British Art Journal 19, no. 3 (2018): 78-79. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48584554.

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500 Years of British Art