The emergence of two works by Susannah-Penelope Rosse, both apparently owned by her husband and sold from his home in an auction of 1723, provide a unique insight into the artistic practices, as well as the intertwined communities of portrait miniature painters in seventeenth-century England.

The daughter of the artist Richard Gibson (b.c. 1605/15-90) and Anne (née Sheppard) (d. 1707) both intimately connected with the royal court, Susannah-Penelope went on to marry the royal jeweller Michael Rosse (d. 1734). Her in-laws, Christopher Rosse and his wife Elizabeth, lived in the artist Samuel Cooper’s house in Henrietta Street after his death; Cooper’s widow, Christiana, would have been part of the local community and certainly known to Susannah-Penelope from her girlhood.

Susannah-Penelope Rosse, like many born into artistic families, would have been brought up with an intimate knowledge of limning techniques. Like Levina Teerlinc (d.1576) and Susannah Horenbout (c.1503-c.1554) before her, the circumstances of her birth combined with her own talent enabled...

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The emergence of two works by Susannah-Penelope Rosse, both apparently owned by her husband and sold from his home in an auction of 1723, provide a unique insight into the artistic practices, as well as the intertwined communities of portrait miniature painters in seventeenth-century England.

The daughter of the artist Richard Gibson (b.c. 1605/15-90) and Anne (née Sheppard) (d. 1707) both intimately connected with the royal court, Susannah-Penelope went on to marry the royal jeweller Michael Rosse (d. 1734). Her in-laws, Christopher Rosse and his wife Elizabeth, lived in the artist Samuel Cooper’s house in Henrietta Street after his death; Cooper’s widow, Christiana, would have been part of the local community and certainly known to Susannah-Penelope from her girlhood.

Susannah-Penelope Rosse, like many born into artistic families, would have been brought up with an intimate knowledge of limning techniques. Like Levina Teerlinc (d.1576) and Susannah Horenbout (c.1503-c.1554) before her, the circumstances of her birth combined with her own talent enabled her to work professionally as an artist. It seems that Rosse had an additional advantage with the internationally renowned Cooper literally on her doorstep. In her late teens when the great master died, there is ample evidence that she had access to his studio both before and after his death in 1672.

The most compelling evidence of Rosse’s acquaintance with Cooper must naturally come from the works which she copied from him. As George Vertue noted ‘Her first manner she learnt of her father, but being inarmour’d with Cooper’s limnings, she studied & copy’d them to perfection.’[1] The present portrait of James, Duke of York, is based on the original by Cooper, the prime version of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.[2]

It is possible that Rosse also saw a version of Cooper’s miniature in unfinished form, left to his widow in his studio after his death. Within the correspondence recorded by Daphne Foskett in her book Samuel Cooper, is listed an unfinished miniature of the Duke of York, which Rosse may also have been able to study.[3]

Rosse’s career was ‘neither straightforwardly professional nor amateur’.[4] Financially, she was not compelled to paint for a living, but her career followed a similar path to her male counterparts. In studying the work of other artists (that of her father, Richard Gibson, her neighbour Samuel Cooper and also John Hoskins the younger, who became her neighbour after her marriage) Rosse was able to learn the specific technique of limning. Her contacts to the court meant that she had good connections to potential sitters. In many ways, she and her husband Michael Rosse can be viewed as a successful, professional team, much as in the same way as their contemporary counterparts, the artist Mary Beale and her studio manager husband, Charles Beale. Rosse’s miniatures could be framed by her jeweller husband, Michael, offering a unique service to patrons.

A note on provenance

The earliest mention of the present work is found in the sale of Rosse’s husband, the court jeweller Michael Rosse (fl.1670-1723), where it was sold as lot 194. At some point thereafter it became grouped with a portfolio of works which then came into the possession of Ellen Tower, whose lineage can be traced back to Thomas Tower of Lancashire (d.1659). It is thought that the Tower family had connections to Rosse’s father Richard Gibson, and it was to him that for many years the unsigned drawings were attributed – probably due to the fact that within the collection were also signed works by Gibson.

Ellen Tower married W.H. Harford, D.L, and their daughter, Louise E

[1] ‘Vertue Note Books Volume 1’, in The Walpole Society, vol. 18, 1929-30 (Oxford, 1930), p. 117

[2] The portrait by Cooper, commissioned in 1660 and painted 1660/61 is one of several versions. This version was previously owned by Richard Graham, who was an acquaintance of George Vertue and Samuel Cooper’s earliest biographer (Victoria and Albert Museum) P.45-1955

[3] D. Foskett, Samuel Cooper, 1974, p. 63; recorded in the letters between the London agent Francesco Terriesi and his client Cosimo III of Tuscany of 1674.

[4] B. Grosvenor and E. Rutherford, Warts and All; The Portrait Miniatures of Samuel Cooper, exhibition catalogue, November/ December 2013, p. 135

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500 Years of British Art