Catalogue entry


Oil on octagonal oak panel 21 7/8 × 17 9/16 (556 × 446)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: ...; R. Gilbertson, sold Christie's 7 July 1967 (8 as ‘Gentleman said to be Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset’) bt Agnew;...; anonymous sale, Christie's 20 November 1981 (89, repr.) bt in, and offered again at Christie's 30 July 1982 (4, repr.) bt Leggatt for Tate Gallery
Exh: Dictionary of National Biography, 1908, for Herbert, Montgomery and Dormer; R. Strong, The English Icon, 1969, p.300, fig.306; The Tate Gallery 1982–84, Illustrated Biennial Report, p.26, repr.

The attribution to Gheeraedts was first made by Sir Oliver Millar when the painting appeared on the art market in 1967 as a putative portrait of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, an identification that cannot be sustained on comparison with known portraits of Somerset. The Gheeraedts attribution has been fully accepted by all subsequent writers, and the high quality of the work revealed during its recent restortion further reinforces the view that the painting is an unusual and fine example of the atist's middle period, after the flat and two-dimensional images of the Elizabethan era had begun to yield to the still formal but more shadowed and substantial style of the Jacobean period.

On grounds of likeness it can now be argued that the sitter is Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and 4th Earl of Pembroke (1584–1650), whose passion for hunting endeared him to James I, as did his craggy good looks, whose salient features an unfriendly Oxford lampoonist described graphically in 1648:

His nose was notch'd like country garden pales
His brow and chin more mountainous than Wales...

(quoted in A.J. Finberg, ‘Two Anonymous Portraits of Cornelius Johnson’, Walpole Society, IV, 1918, p.12). Many authenticated portraits of the 4th Earl exist, among which this would be the earliest. Conveniently, all show the head from the same angle, and the distinctive tawny colouring, long bumpy nose, hooded eyes under light, arched eyebrows and bulging forehead are discernible in all. They are more elegantly rendered in Van Dyck's portrait of him in his maturity, c.1634 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), and flatteringly evened out in the magnificent full-length of the Earl in peer's robes, c.1615, by William Larkin at Audley End (The Hon. R.C. Neville; Strong 1969, p.316, fig.327 in col.). The most compelling similarity, however, is with the three-quarter length of c.1628 at Hatfield, now firmly attributed to Daniel Mytens (E. Auerbach and C. Kingsley Adams, Paintings and Sculpture at Hatfield House, 1971, pl.VIII in col.).

What is clearly a companion to the Tate picture is in the collection of the Stanford University Museum of Art, California (21 × 17in, 533 × 433mm, Mortimer C. Leventritt Fund 77.181, bt from Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox 1977, ex coll. Lord Kinnaird). It shows a dark-haired man in a similar false oval on an octagonal panel, against the same blue background and wearing identical dress, but facing the other way. This could well represent Philip's elder brother William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (1580–1630), although so far it has not been possible to ascertain if both paintings originally came from the same collection; they are differently framed, the Stanford portrait, unlike the Tate picture, being in a modern frame. Comparisons of likeness are less straightforward, as there are fewer portraits of William, and those that are known show him bearded and after he had become heavy in middle age. It is clear however that, unlike his brother, he was dark, and the structure of the face and characteristic hairline correspond well with that in the earliest known portrait of him by Paul van Somer, signed and dated 1617, in the Royal Collection (O. Millar, ‘A Little-known Portrait by Paul van Somer’, Burlington Magazine, XCII, 1950, p.294, fig.22). He is always shown wearing an annulet in his ear, as is the man in the Stanford picture.

Annulets, like the fleurs-de-lys embroidered on the tunics of both men in these two ovals, are part of the Montgomery coat-of-arms. Although it was the 3rd Earl's brother Philip who was created Earl of Montgomery in 1605, Montgomery Castle in Wales had been in the possession of the Herbert family for generations, and was a bone of contention between Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury (1583–1648) and his kinsman Earl Philip throughout the years 1607–13. Significantly, a not dissimilar medallion portrait of Lord Herbert of Cherbury at Charlcote Park, datable to c.1609–10 and fairly convincingly attributed to William Larkin, shows him wrapped in a cloak covered with the five-pointed stars also found on the Montgomery arms (oil on copper, 22 × 18in, Strong 1969, p.315, fig.325). These heraldic elements are found today only on the arms of the Montgomeries of Scotland (e.g. the Earls of Eglinton) who, however, trace their descent from the legendary vassal of William the Conqueror, Roger de Montgomery, later Earl of Shrewsbury (died c.1093), the original builder of Montgomery Castle. Roger was celebrated by early historians as being ‘literally foremost among the conquerors of England’ (see E.A. Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest, 1867–79, II, p.194), endowed with all the attributes of a classic hero, justice, wisdom, moderation and lavish patronage of various religious institutions: in other words, a truly noble adversary of the English as represented in legend by the Arthurian Knights.

The Welsh wizard Merlin, King Arthur and an assortment of legendary knights figured in Prince Henry's Barriers, a military entertainment with speeches by Ben Jonson, staged on 6 January 1610 at the Banqueting House in Whitehall to celebrate Prince Henry's first bearing of arms (for a full account see S. Orgel and R. Strong, Inigo Jones, The Theatre of the Stuart Court, 1973, I, pp.158–76). Against a setting of Roman ruins to represent the Fallen House of Chivalry, the ancient Briton Meliadus (Prince Henry) and six chosen companions restore Chivalry to her former glory by successfully challenging fifty-six defendants ‘consisting of Earles, Barons, Knights and Esquiers’ dressed in a variety of exotic and mythological costumes. Only a few of the participants are known by name, but among them was the Earl of Montgomery, who acquitted himself so well as a defendant, that he was adjudged a prize. It is likely that William, assiduous courtier that he was, also participated in this glittering state occasion, and that these portraits could be a memento of it. It is not known what costume Montgomery wore, but the production had a strong classical bias, with the costume thought to be for Merlin, for instance, apparently based on the figure of Homer in Raphael's ‘Parnassus’. Both portraits have a strong affinity with Isaac Oliver's celebrated miniature of Prince Henry à l'antique, posed in Roman dress, in profile against a classical shell niche, and also dated to c.1610 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).

Although very different in character, both Herbert brothers shone at court, in the tiltyard and at masques. William, who suffered from migraines and was described as a melancholy young man, though ‘immoderately given up to women’ (he had a scandalous affair with Mary Fitton) had pleasing manners and was a favourite of Queen Anne of Denmark. Philip, on the other hand, was ill-tempered and notoriously foul-mouthed, a man who, according to a contemporary, ‘pretended to no other gratifications than to understand dogs and horses very well’, but was held in high favour by the King (see T. Lever, The Herberts of Wilton, 1967, pp. 72–96). The brothers often appeared together at tournaments and other state occasions, and among the many dedications of books that they accepted as lavish patrons of the arts is the famous dedication to them of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1623) as ‘The Incomparable Pair of Brethren’. Their appearance in identical costumes on some occasion would not, therefore, seem out of character.

It may be relevant to note that the collection at Rousham has a portrait of Sir Charles Cotterell (1615–1702) by William Dobson (octagonal canvas 20 1/2 × 17 1/2in, repr. in catalogue of Dobson exhibition, National Portrait Gallery 1983, no.33) very similar in shape and size, and in an identical late seventeenth-century frame to T03466. He is shown wearing conventional armour, with a red cloak tied on his shoulder in a very similar manner as here. He is said to have spent his early years at Wilton, attending on the Earl of Pembroke, becoming Groom-Porter to James I and later Master of Ceremonies to Charles I. It is not inconceivable, though at present unprovable, that some chivalric notion connected this small group of nobles, and that in the late seventeenth century, especially as the Herberts and Cotterell-Dormers were distantly related by that time, these paintings formed part of a set of portraits or a decorative scheme of some sort.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986