Unknown artist, Britain

Portrait of a Lady, probably Mrs Clement Edmondes


Not on display

Unknown artist, Britain
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2100 × 1098 mm
Bequeathed by Dame Drue Heinz 2018


The sitter in this portrait has been identified as Mary Clerke, wife of Clement Edmondes, Remembrancer of the City of London from 1605–9 – the book she rests her hand on, which is prominently displayed open at the title page, is Edmondes’s popular Observations upon Caesar’s Commentaries, first published in 1600 and which went through several editions. She stands, full length, on rush matting, in astonishingly fine attire. The elaborate lace ruff and cuffs are painstakingly delineated, as is the bold black and white and jewelled decoration of her bodice and skirt, and the sumptuous embroidery of her petticoat.

At the time of her marriage in 1598, Mary Clerke was described as attendant to Dorothy, Lady Stafford, who served as one of Elizabeth I’s gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber for forty years (she is sometimes described as Mistress of the Robes). It is known that the Queen gave items of her clothing as gifts to those attending on her, and it is possible that the extraordinary and magnificent petticoat seen here, with its colourfully embroidered waves, fish, sea-monsters and the sun, could be such an item. This mixture of motifs, most likely taken from woodcuts in natural history and emblem books, can be seen in a portrait of the Queen herself (Hardwick Hall), in which she wears an item of extravagantly embroidered clothing intended as a New Year’s gift to her from the Countess of Shrewsbury.

The full-length format of this portrait, the depiction of rich and expensive dress, and the prominent display of Edmondes’s Commentaries on Caesar (the partially worn inscription on it clearly identifies Edmondes as ‘Remembrancer of the Cittie’) celebrates the couple’s public success. Whether it is also a tribute to Lady Stafford’s role in their advancement is unknown. Lady Stafford died in 1604 but it was the connections with people made possible as a result of Mary Edmondes’s position as her close attendant that were instrumental to both the publication of Edmondes’s volume and the securing of his official post: it was Lady Stafford’s son-in-law, John Scott, who first persuaded Edmondes to produce his Commentaries on Caesar; and it was through the sister of Scott’s stepson, Sir Robert Drury (to whom some editions of the Commentaries carry an epistle) that he was recommended to the Remembrancership.

This painting, together with another full-length portrait of the period – Unknown artist, Portrait of Mary Kytson, Lady Darcy of Chiche, later Lady Rivers c.1590 (Tate T15213) – was formerly in the collection of Dame Drue Heinz. It is likely that both works were originally in the collection at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, the home of Mary Kytson’s father Sir Thomas Kytson. Both are important as early instances of the full-length portrait format, as well as for their spectacular depiction of costume and jewellery. The carefully delineated rich gowns, lace and jewels, as well as the heraldic arms displayed in the background of the portrait of Mary Kytson, reflect the Elizabethan and early Jacobean preoccupation with status, lineage and messages conveyed through symbols and emblems.

Portrait of a Lady, Mrs Clement Edmondes was included in the exhibition Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630 at the Tate Gallery, London in 1995 (catalogue number 134).

Further reading
Susan Bracken, catalogue entry 134, in Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, pp.195–6.
Clement Edmondes biography, in History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1604–29, 2010, www.historyofparliamentonline.org, accessed 6 September 2018.

Tabitha Barber
September 2018

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Display caption

The inscription on the book refers to the translation of Caesar’s Commentaries made by Clement Edmondes (?1564–1622) Remembrancer of the City of London. He may have owed his advancement to the court connections of his wife, Mary Clerke, attendant on Elizabeth I’s Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, Lady Stafford. Queen Elizabeth often gave away pieces of her clothing and it is thought that the richly embroidered petticoat here worn by Mary Edmondes may be one such item.

Gallery label, May 2007

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