Cornelius Johnson

Portrait of Susanna Temple, Later Lady Lister


Not on display

Cornelius Johnson 1593–1661
Oil paint on oak
Support: 850 × 686 × 75 mm
frame: 850 × 686 × 75 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

Although his family were German-Flemish refugees, Johnson himself was born in London. The careful observation and refined handling of his portraits suggest that he may have trained – at least in part – in Holland. This is one of his earliest works.The sitter was the only daughter of Sir Alexander Temple of Etchingham, Sussex. The martlet (a heraldic bird) in her ear-ring is part of the Temple family arms. Susanna’s first husband, Sir Gifford Thornhurst, was to die in 1627. In 1636 she married Sir Martin Lister of Thorpe Arnold, Leicestershire.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry

Cornelius Johnson 1593–1661

Portrait of Susanna Temple, later Lady Lister
Oil on panel
679 x 518 mm
Purchased 1981

Ownership history
Apparently by descent through the sitter’s daughter Susanna who married George Gregory of Harlaxton, Lincolnshire in 1664; almost certainly at Harlaxton by 1888; Thomas Sherwin Pearson-Gregory Esq of Harlaxton Manor; his executor’s sale, Christie’s, 18 June 1937 (27; as ‘A Lady of the De Ligne Family’), bought Vicars; …; R.H. Leon sale, White House, Denham, 9–10 May 1961 (57); Mrs Wrighton of Fulmer House, Fulmer, Buckinghamshire by 1978; Sotheby’s, 13 December 1978 (201; reproduced, as ‘A Lady, probably Elizabeth Petre’); Sotheby’s, 18 March 1981 (27; as ‘Portrait of Elizabeth Petre’), bought Thos Agnew & Sons Ltd, from whom purchased by Tate.

Exhibition history
Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, Tate Gallery, London 1995, no.145.

Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, vol.1, ed. by R.N. Wornum, London 1888, p.212, note 4; Revd H.L.L. Denny, Memorials of an Ancient House, Edinburgh 1913, p.215; A.J. Finberg, ‘A Chronological List of Paintings by London 1925, p.49 and reproduced facing page; Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, London 1978, p.61; Tate Gallery Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1980–82, London 1984, pp.25–6; Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, no.145, p.216; Karen Hearn, ‘The English Career of Cornelius Johnson’, in Juliette Roding and others (eds.), Dutch and Flemish Artists in Britain 1550–1800, Leiden 2003, pp.113–29.

This is one of Johnson’s earliest surviving portraits, and exemplifies the delicacy and polished handling of his initial style. Susanna Temple was the only daughter of Sir Alexander Temple (1583–1629), who owned property in Essex, Kent and Sussex. Her brother James was later one of the signatories of Charles I’s death warrant.1 Her own date of birth is not recorded, but in 1627 she married Sir Gifford Thornhurst of Agnes Court, Kent, who died two months later. Their daughter Frances was subsequently the mother of Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough. In 1633 Susanna married Sir Martin Lister of Thorpe Arnold, Leicestershire, by whom she had five daughters and five sons. Her second son, the zoologist Martin (born c.1638), later became physician to Queen Anne.2 Susanna was buried at Burwell, Lincolnshire, on 28 November 1669. She is depicted wearing a drop earring, of which the central element is a martlet; this bird is part of the Temple coat of arms. The portrait was among a group of De Ligne and Lister family portraits by Cornelius Johnson noted at Harlaxton by James Dallaway by 1888, although he erroneously identified a different portrait as being of Susanna Temple. The painting had earlier, however, been engraved by Robert White (1645–1703), inscribed with the correct name and titles of the sitter. A family tradition that she was a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Anne of Denmark (died 1619) does not appear to be substantiated. A portrait of Susanna’s father, also dated 1620, is in the collection of Viscount Cobham at Hagley Hall, with a replica, formerly in the Northwick Park collection, now at the Center for British art, New Haven. Both paintings give Temple’s age as thirty-seven, in an italic script. A number of early heard-and-shoulders portraits on panel, signed by Johnson, bear inscriptions in this script, such as the ‘Young Man aged 22’, also dated 1620, in the Holburne of Menstrie Museum, Bath,3 and the ‘Unknown Lady, Aged 50’, dated 1619 (Lamport Hall). It is conceivable that they may all have formed part of a Temple family commission. The similarity of handling in the Lamport portrait to that of John Hoskins’s ‘Alice, Lady Le Strange’ may permit the speculation that Hoskins and Johnson received training from some common source, perhaps Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.4 The enamelled surfaces of the portraits of Susanna Temple and her father, on the other hand, suggest a period of study in the Netherlands. All Johnson’s surviving works are portraits and his earliest, up to the mid-1620s, are head-and-shoulders portraits within a trompe-l’oeil oval. This format may derive from the shape favoured for contemporary portrait miniatures, or from the oval-within-a-rectangle form of portrait engravings, found from the end of the late-sixteenth century onwards both in Britain and the Low Countries.

Karen Hearn
April 2008


1 J. T. Peacey, ‘Temple, James (1606–c.1674)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004,, accessed 25 January 2013.
2 J.D. Woodley, ‘Lister, Martin (bap.1639, d.1712)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004,, accessed 25 January 2013.
3 Kindly pointed out to the author by Dr F.G. Meijer, 1995.
4 See Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, no.144.


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