William Dobson 1611–1646
Portrait of Endymion Porter
Oil on canvas
1499 x 1270 mm
According to the catalogue of the Monson sale in 1888 (see below) the painting was formerly in the collection of Walsh Porter, but does not appear in any of the sales from that collection; probably Woodburn Senior sale, Christie’s, 12 May 1821 (55); … ; Frederick, 5th Baron Monson, Gatton Park, by 1857; his sale, Christie’s, 12 May 1888 (17) where bought by National Gallery; transferred to Tate 1951.
Masterpieces of British Art from the Tate Gallery, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art Kobe 1998, no.5, pp.58–9, 181–2, 214; Royalist Refugees: William and Margaret Cavendish in the Rubens House 1648–1660, Rubenshuis, Antwerp 2006; Van Dyck and Britain, Tate Britain, London 2009, no.97, p.183.
Dr Waagen, Galleries & Cabinets of Art. Supplemental vol. 4, ‘Treasures of Art in Great Britain’, London 1857, p.344; C.H. Collins Baker, Lely & the Stuart Portrait Painters: A Study of English Portraiture Before and After Van Dyke, 2 vols, London 1912, vol. 1 pp. 97, 99-100, vol. 2 p. 116; B.M. Spencer, William Dobson, MA dissertation, University of London 1937; Martin Davies, British School, National Gallery, London 1946, pp.49–50; William Dobson, 1611–1646, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1951, no.14 ; EllisWaterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, London 1953 pp.50-1; William Vaughan, Endymion Porter and William Dobson, Tate, London 1970 (with an appendix on ‘Dobson and Titian’ by Martin Robertson); Malcolm Rogers, William Dobson 1611–46, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 1983, no.8, pp.33–5, pl.3; Valerie Cumming, A Visual History of Costume in the Seventeenth Century, London 1984, no.72; Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, London 1990, p.18; Richard Humphreys, Tate Britain Companion to British Art, London 2001, pp.40–2; Ronald G. Asch, ‘Endymion Porter’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol.44, Oxford 2004, pp.947–50.
Endymion Porter (1587–1649) is depicted out of doors, holding a wheel lock sporting rifle of German make, against what appears to be a sunset sky. His left arm rests on a stone carved with a relief that represents the Arts. On this, the female figure of Painting holds a palette and brushes and supports a canvas on which she has painted the figure of Minerva, patron goddess of the Arts; Sculpture sits in the middle, having carved the figure of Minerva that Painting has copied; to the right is Poetry, a quill-pen in her hand. To the left of Porter, a young attendant holds a dead hare, which is being sniffed by a dog. Behind the boy, on a stone Corinthian capital, is a large carved bust of Apollo, patron god of the Arts.
Porter came of a minor gentry family, but one that had links with Spain. In 1605, he accompanied his brother there in the train of the Earl of Nottingham, where he became a member of the household of the Conde de Olivares. He returned to England in about 1612 with important contacts at the Spanish court, and soon entered the service of George Villiers, the future 1st Duke of Buckingham. He accompanied Villiers and Prince Charles, later Charles I, on their journey to Spain in 1623. There he was able to act as an intermediary between the prince and the Spanish court, and to demonstrate his knowledge of works of art. When Charles came to the throne, Porter became a member of the Royal Bedchamber, and received various grants and lucrative offices. He was ‘undoubtedly the most prominent of Charles I’s grooms of the bedchamber’,1 and was occasionally sent abroad on diplomatic missions. He was a patron of various painters and writers, and acted as an artistic advisor first to Villiers and later to the king. His judgement on art seems to have been greatly respected. His friendship with Sir Anthony van Dyck is marked by a celebrated painting now in the Prado in Madrid, a self-portrait of the artist accompanied by Porter.2 In 1619, Porter had married Olivia (or Olive) Boteler, a kinswoman of Villiers. In the 1630s, Olivia converted to Catholicism, and Porter himself was known for his Catholic sympathies. Seven of the couple’s twelve children survived beyond infancy. By the early 1640s, as his various grants ceased with the deteriorating political situation, Porter began to experience financial problems. He accompanied Charles I to Oxford and was a member of the parliament there. During the Civil War ‘he belonged to the king’s personal entourage but did not command a regiment himself although nominally a colonel’.3 In July 1645 he left for exile in France, where Olive joined him the following year. By then destitute, he moved on to Brussels early in 1647. He returned to England early in 1649 and died in London in August the same year. His own art collection had been dispersed, and no inventory of it survives.
The present painting was the subject of an exemplary detailed study by William Vaughan, published in 1970, and of a full catalogue entry by Malcolm Rogers in 1983. It is among Dobson’s very finest works. Dobson based the composition on that of Titian’s Vespasian, one of the twelve paintings of Caesars that King Charles I had acquired from the collection of the Dukes of Mantua in 1628, and which hung in the Gallery at St James’s Palace in London.4 It has been suggested that the carved bust of Apollo may be a specific allusion to the bust of Apollo in the Devil’s Tavern in Fleet Street, the scene of literary gatherings known to have been attended by Porter and others including the poets Ben Jonson and Aurelian Townsend, Kenelm Digby, and George Sandys, the translator of works by Ovid.
Some scholars consider that this work was painted while both sitter and artist were resident in Oxford, whence King Charles had decamped following the outbreak of the Civil War. Rogers, however, argued that as it appears to represent a celebration of the arts of peace (in the context of a country landowner’s sporting pursuits) it is likely to have been conceived earlier, in about 1642, when both Dobson and Porter were still in London. He does not rule out the possibility that the artist followed his grand patron to Oxford with the work only partially completed.5
This painting was engraved by William Faithorne in 1646, its legend giving the names of the sitter and the artist and the print seller Thomas Rowlett. After 1649, the plate was altered by Thomas Hinde, another print seller, who darkened the subject’s moustache and altered the title to ‘the true and lively Pourtraicture of Robert Earle of Essex’, the commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary army.6
A small monochrome copy in oils, in a private European collection, seems to be a later sketch after the present work.7