Zoomable Image of Portrait of a Gentleman, c.1590

Portrait of a Gentleman, c.1590

English School

Portrait of a Gentleman, c.1590

English School

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Oil on panel


19 x 15 1/8 in (48.3 x 38.4 cm)


Private Collection, USA

Technical Expertise:

Prof. Dr. Peter Klein, Dendrochronological Analysis Report, 23 November 2014

That this work was painted by a highly accomplished hand is undeniable, as on a technical level we can observe an artist of great confidence and virtuosity...

This compelling late-Tudor portrait was painted in the 1590s,[1]and shows a well-dressed Elizabethan gentleman sporting a fashionable yellow slashed doublet and embroidered blackwork collar.

That this work was painted by a highly accomplished hand is undeniable, and under-drawing, just visible beneath the paint layers, indicates a draftsman of great confidence and virtuosity. The under-drawing also suggests that the artist changed their mind at numerous stages throughout the development of the composition, and the facial features, in particular the bottom lip, were originally positioned slightly lower. A more remarkable amendment, or pentimento, can be observed towards the centre of the composition, where infrared photography reveals there was once a hand clutching what seems to be a pair of gloves or a piece of paper, although it is unclear why this was never developed.

A portrait of very similar proportions depicting a gentleman of the Yates family is in the collection at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, and bears a striking stylistic similarity to the present work, most noticeably in the strong construction of the facial features, and the defined treatment of the facial hair.[2]The compositional design (or ‘pattern’), with the subject shown to waist with his left hand raised, is also very close to that seen in the under-drawing of this work, and it is possible, though difficult to say without further investigation, that they are both by the same hand.

The subject of this portrait is at present unknown, although a clue to his identity can be found in the top left corner of the panel in the form of a symbolic device or badge, which shows two shells with droplets of water falling onto a comb beneath. These visual devices were occasionally employed by the artist or patron of a portrait during the Elizabethan period, and sometimes act as a jovial visual pun on the name of the sitter’s family; for example, the arms of the Lambarde family of Beechmont, Kent, contain three lambs divided by a red chevron, and that of the Beveridge family of Vallay, Inverness, contains two beavers in combat.

It is also possible, although perhaps unlikely due to fierce anti-Catholic sentiment at this period, that the shells represent a more obvious religious meaning. The scallop shell was often worn as a visual indicator of having undertaken the Camino de Santiago – a long-established route of pilgrimage to the burial site of the apostle St. James the Greater in Galicia. It was typically on the shores of Galicia that pilgrims would gather these shells, but they would also serve a more functional purpose throughout the pilgrimage, as their natural design would be most useful for holding food and water.

[1] Dendrochronological analysis of the panel on which this work was painted suggests an earliest plausible creation date from 1581 upwards.

[2] We are grateful to Edward Town, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Yale Centre for British Art, for first suggesting a possible relationship between these two works.

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