Endymion Porter – entrepreneur, politician, courtier and diplomat
– is shown here dressed in the hunting costume of a country squire in an
unmistakably English landscape. He’s also shown in his role as a patron of
the arts: his pose is based on a lost Titian portrait of the Roman Emperor,
Vespasian; above him is a classical bust of the god of the arts, Apollo; and
below him is a relief of figures which represent Sculpture, Painting and Poetry,
with a statuette of the goddess of art and war, Pallas Athene. This portrait was
painted during the conflict of the Civil War, at Charles I’s
court-in-exile, in Oxford, where Endymion Porter was living.
There’s a distinct atmosphere of impending threat here – and Porter was to die, sick with exhaustion, at the very end of the war. The artist, William Dobson died only a year after completing this picture, in poverty, in a garret in the new artists’ district of St Martin’s Lane in London.
Andrew Marr is the BBC’s Political Editor:
‘I think William Dobson is a great painter. He combines all the iconography and the extravagant enjoyment of colour and design that you associate with Van Dyck, and so on, but with a sort of English beefiness, a redness of face, and this guy, with the glorious name of Endymion Porter, I suppose it sums up the painting in a way. Endymion, on the one hand (..) you’ve got the painting full of classical references to his love or art and patronage, and his role in the court, by now moved by Charles I to Oxford, and yet Porter; you couldn’t have a more English surname than Porter, and he’s a good porter drinker’s face. Now he was apparently an entrepreneur as well as a highly successful courtier. He didn’t have much longer to live when this painting was done; we see a sunset behind him. Whether this is the sunset of the Court and indeed the monarchy for a while we don’t really know, perhaps that’s reading too much into it, but this is just one of those paintings which is clearly sending a whole series of political messages about the sitter. And yet, it’s a painting you can enjoy immediately now, because you look at old Endymion and you know instinctively the kind of person that you’re dealing with.’