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Zoomable Image of An unknown Gentleman, wearing gilded armour, a wired lace collar and a crimson sash of command

An unknown Gentleman, wearing gilded armour, a wired lace collar and a crimson sash of command

Peter Oliver (1589-1647)

An unknown Gentleman, wearing gilded armour, a wired lace collar and a crimson sash of command

Peter Oliver (1589-1647)

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Price:

£9,500

Materials:

Watercolour on vellum laid down on card

Dimensions:

Oval, 1 ½ in (39 mm) high

Provenance:

Private Collection, UK

Inscriptions:

Signed with monogram ‘PO’

Frame:

Later gilt-metal frame with scrolled border and ribbon surmount, the reverse engraved ‘P Oliver/ 1594-1648’

Cecil was a professional soldier who fought in the Dutch War of Independence and in 1610, when his portrait was painted by Mierevelt, led British forces into battle to defend German claims to the duchies of Cleves and Jülich against Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor.

This portrait by Peter Oliver bears an extremely close resemblance to Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt’s portrait of Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon (1572-1638). The Mierevelt portrait, dated 1610, shows the Viscount in the same type of field armour as in the Oliver portrait and wearing a crimson sash. The thickness of this suggests that it is a sash of command, worn to distinguish opposing combatants on the battlefield, rather than a red sash of the Order of the Bath. Cecil was extremely close to Henry, Prince of Wales (1594-1612), eldest son of James I and Anne of Denmark, who died tragically young of typhoid fever. Although his life was short, he was one of the greatest cultural patrons that England had ever seen. Isaac Oliver, Peter’s father, rose to the position of court miniaturist to Henry and it is quite probable that both Isaac and his son would have come into contact with Edward Cecil as part of the young prince’s closest circle.

Cecil was a professional soldier who fought in the Dutch War of Independence and in 1610, when his portrait was painted by Mierevelt, led British forces into battle to defend German claims to the duchies of Cleves and Jülich against Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. He commanded the first army flagged as British under the Union Flag. The portrait by Mierevelt was painted while Cecil was in Delft and sent back to England. If the present miniature also portrays Cecil, it is possible that it was painted shortly before or after his departure or taken from the oil portrait in Cecil’s absence (who was much missed by Prince Henry during the campaign).

In the 1610s, Peter Oliver was then still much under the influence of his father, Isaac (c.1565-1617), although with an acuteness of observation imparting a lifelike quality that was entirely his own. In the view of Sir Horace Walpole, a connoisseur of portrait miniatures, ‘Oliver’s son, Peter, alone approached to the perfection of his father’.[1] Through his father’s second marriage, moreover, Oliver was well connected to the Gheeraerts family of painters, who commanded the field of panel painting in the early years of the seventeenth century.

Following Isaac Oliver’s death in 1617, Peter Oliver took on his position at court, working as the miniaturist to Henry’s successor as Prince of Wales, Charles (1600-1649). When Charles ascended to the throne in 1625, Peter Oliver was made one of his officers of the chamber. The present work, although early in Peter’s career, is confidently signed in his monogram and represents an important commission from a member of the court’s inner circle.


[1] H. Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England; With some Account of the principal Artists; And incidental Notes on other Arts; Collected by the late Mr. George Vertue; And now digested and published from his original MSS (4 vols., London, 1765), i, p. 165.

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