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George Talbot (1528?-1590) was one of the richest men of his time. Elizabeth I made him guardian of the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots and asked him to preside at Mary's execution in 1587.
This striking image seems to be either a later copy of a lost original portrait of the Earl, or perhaps an 18th-century pastiche based on a known head-and-shoulders portrait from 1580. The misunderstood depiction of the sword-hilt is one of various details that suggest this. Such pastiches are commonly found in country-house collections. They would have been commissioned to fill a gap in a display of ancestors or famous historical figures. This is a useful example of the way that later generations used portrait images.

August 2004