David des Granges 1611–1671/2
The Saltonstall Family
Oil on canvas
2142 x 2755 mm
Purchased from the Hon. Alan Clark (Grant-in-Aid) with contributions from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the National Art Collections Fund and the Pilgrim Trust 1976
Presumably by descent to the Earls of Guildford; Wroxton Abbey sale, held by E.H. Tipping of Oxford, 22–24 May 1933 (718, as ‘Members of the Saltonstall Family’); bought Kenneth Clark (subsequently Lord Clark of Saltwood); the Hon. Alan Clark, from whom purchased by Tate.
Ashmolean Museum, 1933 (loan); Seventeenth Century Art in Europe, Royal Academy, London, 1938 (22); The Age of Charles I, Tate, London, 1972 (147).
George Baker, History and Antiquities of the County of Northampton, 1822–41, vol.1, pp.526–7; ‘Review of Seventeenth Century Art in Europe at the Royal Academy’, Country Life, 8 January 1938, p.42; M. Whinney and O. Millar, English Art 1625–1714, Oxford1957, p.80; M. Praz, Conversation Pieces, London 1971, p.210; The Tate Gallery: Biennial Report 1974–6, p.11; Tate Gallery 1974–6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978, pp.22–3 (entry by Elizabeth Einberg); Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, London 1990, p.17; E.K. Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530–1790, 5th edn, New Haven and London 1994, p.64; Graham Reynolds, ‘David des Granges’, in Jane Shoaf Turner (ed.), The Dictionary of Art, London and New York 1996, vol.13, pp.309–10; Martin Bailey (ed.), The Folio Society Book of the 100 Greatest Portraits, London 2004, pp.102–3l (entry by Karen Hearn).
The early history of this large painting is not known, but by the nineteenth century it was in the collection of the Earls of Guildford. As ‘Members of the Saltonstall Family’, it was among the items sold in 1933 from Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire, a property that had descended in that family.
It has traditionally been attributed to David des Granges, who is otherwise known as a painter of portrait miniatures, although a handful of half-length paintings by him have also been noted. Des Granges came of an immigrant family from Guernsey and was baptised in 1611 at the French Church in London; as an adult he lived and worked in the Covent Garden area. He was employed as a miniaturist by Charles I (reigned 1625–49). During the English Civil War and subsequent Commonwealth period (1642–60) he took the royalist side and produced many miniatures of the future Charles II (reigned 1660–85). The composition of the present work appears to evoke Anthony van Dyck’s portraits of the children of King Charles I, produced in the mid and late1630s.
The viewer’s first impression is that the image is celebratory: it appears that the father is bringing two elder children to the bedside of his wife, who has recently given birth to a baby now being held by the lady seated to the right. The face of the lady within the bed is, however, entirely white, and she gazes neither out to the viewer not at her husband, but at the children to the left, towards whom she gestures with a pale hand. She is richly dressed in expensive lace, as is the lady to the right, who is clearly not a mere servant who nurses the infant, but a woman dressed with equal high status.
The painting is thought to show Sir Richard Saltonstall (1595–1650) of Chipping Warden, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, with his family. Sir Richard was widowed in 1630, and the pallid figure within the bed may therefore be a posthumous image of his first wife, Elizabeth Basse. If these identifications are correct, she here points towards the couple’s two surviving children, Richard and Ann, who link hands with each other and with their father, forming a chain both of affection and of family unity. As was customary at this period, the younger Richard wears a long skirt; boys only adopted breeches around the age of six or seven, which may suggest that the two children are depicted at the ages they had attained when their mother died. In 1633 Sir Richard remarried, to a lady called Mary Parker, who may be the richly attired woman seated to the right. The swaddled child in her arms is wrapped in a rich red cloth of the type used at christenings, edged with broad silver gilt bobbin lace and spangles. It could be one of Mary’s own sons by Sir Richard – either John (born 1634, but died young) or Philip (born 1636). The intermingling here of the figures of the dead and the living would echo the conventions of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century funerary monuments, where a husband may be depicted in sculptural form lying alongside his first and second wives, all attended by the figures of both deceased and living children.
The costumes depicted here were, however, in fashion in about 1640. It is possible, therefore, that another group of people altogether is represented, and that their identities have now been lost.
The carpet appears to be of an early seventeenth century Persian type that is usually called ‘Polonaise’ (because it was originally thought to have been produced in Poland). Composed of silk knots and metal thread, these often came to western Europe as diplomatic gifts. The red hangings of the great bed are a sign of wealth and high status, but also give a celebratory rather than a sombre air to this grand dynastic image. To left and right of the bed can be seen the edges of a rich tapestry on the wall behind it – again a sign of wealth. Its borders include representations of tulips, narcissi and red and while lilies. All the textiles in the painting have been painted with close attention, in order to convey their high quality, which suggests that actual fabrics are being depicted, rather than composite ‘idealised’ ones. As a result, every area of the canvas resonates with pattern and colour.