This painting on wooden panel, dated 1592, is one of the two earliest known paintings by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Its provenance suggests that the sitter may be a member of the Harington family of Kelston, near Bath. In her left hand she holds strings of pearls threaded into a shape of four knots. These resemble the 'Harington knots' that feature in the Hartington heraldic arms. The distinctive black-and-white pattern on her sleeves and bodice also echos the Harington arms.
The sitter's age and the date of the painting are written in the top left-hand corner: 'Aetatis suae 23 ¦ Ano 1592' - that is, 'aged 23 in the year 1592'. Although her date of birth is not known, the likeliest candidate is Mary Rogers (died 1634), wife of the poet and courtier Sir John Harington (1561-1612), a godson of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). In 1592, the date on this portrait, Queen Elizabeth visited the Haringtons' house at Kelston while on her summer progress to Bath and Oxford. Harington family papers show that Sir John spent a great deal of money preparing Kelston in advance. The present portrait may have been commissioned in connection with this visit.
Above the sitter's left hand is a Latin inscription 'Non faceam nec frangam' in an italic script that has been noted on other early works by Gheeraerts. It can be translated as 'I may neither make nor break'. This phrase's personal significance for Lady Harington is no longer clear, although it could refer to the Haringtons' Latin motto 'Nodo firmo' (meaning 'in a strong knot').
Mary's husband was the author of an important translation (1591) of the epic Italian poem Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). His other works include a celebrated satire, The Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, which contained the earliest design for a water closet, which Harington has been credited with inventing.
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger was born in Bruges and was brought to England by his painter father, a religious exile from the Catholic Spanish Netherlands. By the early 1590s he was working for court patrons and his most celebrated painting is the immense 'Ditchley' portrait of Elizabeth I (National Portrait Gallery, London). He portrayed many of the most important Elizabethan court figures during the 1590s. He maintained his position, becoming the favoured artist of Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), wife of Elizabeth's successor James I, until about 1617, when he was superseded in fashion by new Netherlands-trained immigrant artists such as Paul van Somer (c.1576-1622) and Daniel Mytens (c.1590-1647). His last known works are from 1629-30.
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, Tate 1976, p.20-21
Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1995, pp. 89-90, 176-80, 192-6
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T01872 MARY ROGERS, LADY HARINGTON 1592
Inscribed ‘AEtatis suæ 23/Ano 1592’ top left and ‘Non faceam nec frangam’ above the hand, l.r.
Oil on panel, 44 1/2×33 1/2 (112.5×89.5)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1974, with a contribution from Hugh Leggatt through the National Art-Collections Fund
Coll: Presumably always at Kelston, near Bath, and by descent to Capt. Richard Harington, RN, with whom first recorded in 1873; thence to John E. Musgrave Harington; with Leggatt Bros. January 1931 when bought by Eric Bullivant of Anderson Manor, Dorset; sold Sotheby's 8 May 1974 (12, repr.), bought for Tate Gallery
Exh: Devon and Cornwall Worthies, Exeter 1873 (122), as ‘Lady Mary Howard’ by Zucchero; The Harington Loan Pictures, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, 1907 (26), entitled as above; The Elizabethan Image, Tate Gallery 1969/70 (154, repr.), as ‘Unknown Lady’ by Gheeraerts
Lit: H. Harington, Nugae Antiquae, 1804 (4th ed.) for general background on Harington family; J. Nichols, Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, 1823, III, p.250; I. Grimble, The Harington Family, 1957, for general family background; R. Strong, The English Icon, 1969, p.279, no.266 (repr., incorrectly dated 1593)
Although in the past the sitter was identified, for no apparent reason, as a ‘Lady Mary Howard’, the provenance of the panel and the fact that she holds in her hand a device made up of four ‘Harington knots’ (one of which figures in the Harington coat-of-arms) suggests that she is a member of the Harington Family of Kelston, near Bath.
If this is so, the date and age given can fit only Mary Rogers (died 1634), wife of Sir John Harington (1561–1612), the court poet and godson of Queen Elizabeth. A portrait of the couple by Custodis (coll. J. B. Gold, repr. in Strong 1969, p.204) of about the same date is not, considering the vagaries of condition and restoration, inconsistent with this likeness. Unfortunately the date of Lady Mary Harington's birth is not known, nor her age at death, and until such a time when these can confirm the age given on the panel, the identification must remain tentative.
The Rogers of Cannington were Somersetshire neighbours of the Haringtons and John Harington, who went with Mary's brother to Ireland in 1586, probably married her after his return about two years later (their eldest son was born in 1589). Sir John addressed many devoted poems to his ‘sweet Mall’ who apparently stayed at home while he attended the Queen at court. However, in 1592, the date of this portrait, the Queen visited Kelston while on her summer progress to Bath and Oxford. The Harington papers record that Sir John, who was High Sheriff of Somerset at the time, spent much money in preparing the house for the visit, which may account for the considerable number of Harington portraits of about this date. The formal black and white court dress may have been a deliberate compliment to the Queen, whose personal colours these were, being worn by her champions in the tiltyard or by masquers at court masques.
The meaning of the motto, written in very fine ‘Gheeraerts’ script over the lady's hand and roughly translating as ‘I may neither make nor break’, may in some way refer to the Harington motto ‘Nodo firmo’ (in a strong knot), but the exact meaning remains obscure.
The fine quality of the panel, which appears to have suffered relatively little damage, and details like the script and the elegantly articulated hands tend to confirm the view that this is an early work by Gheeraerts.
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978
Read technical information about this painting resulting from examination and scientific analysis by conservators and conservation scientists at Tate
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