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We are grateful to Jacqui Ansell, Senior Lecturer Christie’s Education, for her commentary on men’s fashion which has been incorporated into this catalogue note. 

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.

This gentleman’s black doublet is made from gleaming silk fabric. In seventeenth century Europe, the black doublet signified a certain social and moral status and consequently, this desirable attire dominated the elite portraiture of Britain and the Netherlands during this period. Choice of cloth and the mode of its decoration offered further indications of the economic status of the wearer. This gentleman’s fine silk doublet has been enhanced through a repeated pattern which has either been woven into it, or possibly pinked. Popularised throughout the late Elizabethan period, pinking was a fashionable method of stamping into fabric to achieve small...


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We are grateful to Jacqui Ansell, Senior Lecturer Christie’s Education, for her commentary on men’s fashion which has been incorporated into this catalogue note. 

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.

This gentleman’s black doublet is made from gleaming silk fabric. In seventeenth century Europe, the black doublet signified a certain social and moral status and consequently, this desirable attire dominated the elite portraiture of Britain and the Netherlands during this period. Choice of cloth and the mode of its decoration offered further indications of the economic status of the wearer. This gentleman’s fine silk doublet has been enhanced through a repeated pattern which has either been woven into it, or possibly pinked. Popularised throughout the late Elizabethan period, pinking was a fashionable method of stamping into fabric to achieve small holes or serrated edges that added detailed patterns to fabric. The details on this sitter’s doublet form ‘V’ shapes pointing down the sitter’s outfit, interspersed with a curving pattern repeated down the front, and spots on the sleeves.

The seams of the doublet are decorated and reinforced with braiding; a black-on-black addition that adds an understated flair of sophistication to this super-slim-fitting doublet, further enhanced by the vertical braiding along the centre front which elongates the sitter’s torso. Later in the 1620s, the desirable stereotype of the male silhouette would become wider at the chest and sleeve heads, but at this date, a tight fit remained at the height of elegance. The sitter’s ruff is full and edged with bobbin lace - by the 1620s it had become common practise to use bobbin lace to edge the ruff instead of reticella needle lace and ‘punto in aria’. A ruff as extravagant as this could have been made of up to fifty meters of linen which would have required hours of starching in order to hold its shape.

The exceptional condition of this work allows us to appreciate the sitter’s dress in a way that is sadly not always possible in portraits of this age. The dark pigments used to depict the costly black silk doublet are extraordinarily well preserved, and the intricate lace-edged ruff remains as fresh as it was when painted some four hundred years ago.

As a result of the seemingly sombre colour choice, the viewer is encouraged to delight in these decorative details more closely. There is also, however, a moral implication intended through this sartorial sobriety. At this date, lighter colours denoted a corresponding ‘lightness’ of the mind; this sitter is clearly keen to convey his serious mindset and depth of feeling through his colour palette, further implied through the accompanying Latin inscription.

The inscription on the left side, inscribed in lead-tin-yellow paint, is the Latin motto ‘Factum infectum nisi cor affectum’ (‘A deed is not done unless the heart is touched’). 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 often ambiguous mottos and phrases generally made reference to mortality and love and were either devised by the subject or taken from one of the many books on mottos and emblems in circulation at that date. Although we do not know the identity of the sitter, the inscription on his right tells us he was in his thirtieth year when painted in 1621. However, without further information on his identity, it is impossible to establish if the Latin motto relates to a particular event in his life or if it was simply intended to be a playful, romantic conceit to puzzle and perplex the viewer of his portrait.  
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.

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500 Years of British Art