Marcus Gheeraerts II

Portrait of a Man in Classical Dress, possibly Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke


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Marcus Gheeraerts II 1561 or 2–1636
Oil paint on oak
Support: 556 × 446 mm
frame: 690 × 577 × 70 mm
Purchased 1982


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.

Further reading
Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate, London 1986, pp.23-4

Karen Hearn
November 2001

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Display caption

This octagonal painting is one of a pair of portraits (the companion portrait is now at Stanford University, California). It may show the aristocrat Philip Herbert. . The First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, published after his death, was dedicated to Philip and his brother William, 3rd and 4th earls of Pembroke.The head is set within a painted oval similar to contemporary oval portrait miniatures by Isaac Oliver, which show elite court figures in versions of classical dress. The sitter's clothes echoe surviving costume designs by Inigo Jones for the extravagant court entertainments called 'masques'.

Gallery label, May 2007

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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


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