The sitter is painted as if behind an oval window opening, on an octagonal oak panel. He is thought, from comparison with other documented likenesses, to be Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery (1584-1650), later 4th Earl of Pembroke. The same distinctive sandy hair, long irregular nose, hooded eyes beneath light eyebrows and bulging forehead can be seen in the full-length image of the Earl in the robes of the Order of the Garter of c.1615, attributed to William Larkin (private collection, on display at Audley End, Suffolk) and his seated portrait by Daniel Mytens of c.1625 (Hatfield House, Hertfordshire). Later, during the 1630s, the Earl was also to be a significant patron of Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) from whom he commissioned the immense ten-figure Pembroke family group portrait which now fills one end wall of the celebrated Double Cube Room at the seat of the Earls of Pembroke, Wilton House near Salisbury.
In the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, California is a companion to the present portrait. It shows a dark-haired man in a similar false oval on an octagonal panel, against the same blue background and wearing almost identical imitation classical dress. It is thought to represent Philip’s elder brother William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (1580-1630). Both brothers were high-level members of the Jacobean court, and are known to have participated in court masques. These costly and elite entertainments combined music, dance and drama with elaborate fantasy costumes and sets. Indeed the attire seen in these two portraits could have been worn for a masque. There was certainly a court fashion for being depicted both in miniatures and in larger-scale portraits wearing ‘antique’ (that is, classical) costume. The best-known example is Isaac Oliver’s miniature of the heir to the British throne, Henry, Prince of Wales, 1610-11 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; reproduced in K.Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate exhibition catalogue 1995, cat. no. 84, p.137). In it the prince wears a red mantle across his shoulders comparable to the orange-red one seen in the present work.
Both Philip and William Herbert were patrons of the arts, most famously as the joint dedicatees of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works (1623) which described them as ‘The Incomparable Pair of Bretheren’.
Marcus Gheeraerts II was born in Bruges and brought to England by his painter father, a religious exile from the Catholic Spanish Netherlands. By the early 1590s he was working for top court patrons and his most celebrated painting is the large ‘Ditchley’ portrait of Elizabeth I (National Portrait Gallery, London). He became the favoured artist of Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), wife of James I and mother of Henry, Prince of Wales, until about 1617 when he was superseded by younger artists such as Paul van Somer (c.1576-1621/2) and Daniel Mytens (c.1590-1647). His last known works date from 1629-30.
Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate, London 1986, pp.23-4