Circle of William Larkin (c.1585-1619)
The exceptional condition of this work allows us to appreciate the subject’s dress in a way which is sadly not always possible in portraits of this date...
This portrait of an immaculately dressed Jacobean gentleman was painted in 1621, and is a fine example of the meticulously detailed approach to portraiture favoured within English court circles in the early seventeenth century.
The exceptional condition of this work allows us to appreciate the subject’s dress in a way which is sadly not always possible in portraits of this date. The dark pigments utilised in depicting the costly black silk doublet are extraordinarily well preserved, and the intricate lace-edged ruff – one of the main focal points of the portrait – remains as fresh as it was when painted some four hundred years ago. The dress is of the highest quality worn by English courtiers at this date, indicating the subject, although unknown at this stage, was evidently of means.
The inscription to the right of the subject tells us he was in his thirtieth year when painted in 1621, and on the left side, also inscribed in lead-tin-yellow paint, is the Latin motto ‘Factum infectum nisi cor affectum’ (‘a thing done cannot be undone if the heart has not been affected’). In the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods mottoes were frequently included in portraits (often at the direction of the sitter), as a way of transmitting the personal sensibilities of the subject portrayed. These mottos and phrases often made reference to mortality and love, and were either devised by the subject or taken from one of the many books on mottos an emblems in circulation at that date. The source of this inscription is unknown, and its significance to the subject is now sadly impossible to establish.
The identity of the artist who painted this work has so far eluded us, although they were evidently competent and clearly familiar with the work of William Larkin, a highly accomplished court painter who died in 1619. Compositionally, the portrait is reminiscent of Larkin’s work from the 1610s, with the subject placed in a feigned marble oval and positioned upright in an authoritative manner. Another artist who was known for painting bust-length portraits in feigned ovals was Cornelius Johnson, who moved to England in late 1618 or early 1619. Johnson’s style, however, is smoother with less conspicuous brushstrokes and more extensive use of mid-tone shading around the facial features.