Unknown artist, Britain

Portrait of Mary Kytson, Lady Darcy of Chiche, later Lady Rivers

c.1590

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Not on display

Artist
Unknown artist, Britain
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2020 x 1243 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Dame Drue Heinz 2018
Reference
T15213

Summary

The sitter in this portrait can be identified from the inscription in a painted cartouche, bottom right, and the elaborate coat of arms, top left, which has the accompanying date 1590. She is Mary Kytson, wife of Thomas, 3rd Baron Darcy of Chiche. Thirty-six years after this portrait was painted, her husband became Lord Rivers. The couple had an unhappy marriage and separated in 1594. The French inscription ‘Jamais derecheif’, top right, translates loosely as ‘never act in haste’.

The richness and expense of Lady Darcy’s dress is carefully depicted. Her white puffed sleeves and bodice are elaborately embroidered with hops and carnations, and her black sleeveless gown with honeysuckle, while her red farthingale is decorated with silver lace. She wears an elaborate jewel against her chest, pearl drops decorate her hair and long ropes of pearl hang around her neck. Her ‘apparell and jewels’ given to her on her marriage in 1583 included jewels made up of pearls, rubies and diamonds, a ‘great pearl’, a chain of gold set with pearls, as well as silver and gold lace (John Gage, The History and Antiquities of Hengrave in Suffolk, London 1822, p.214). Such outward indicators of status, including also her fan of white ostrich feathers, have been minutely depicted in this portrait, while the extravagant heraldic display, upper left, indicates her lineage.

Mary was the daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Kytson of Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, whose portrait, and that of his wife, Mary’s mother, were painted by George Gower (c.1540–1596) and are also in Tate’s collection (see Tate N06090N06091). It has been suggested that the French inscription alludes to her marital woes. In another, later, full-length portrait of her, she holds a scroll of paper which has been understood as the deed of separation from her husband.

This painting, together with another full-length portrait of the period – Unknown artist, Portrait of a Lady, Mrs Clement Edmondes c.1605–10 (Tate T15214) – was formerly in the collection of Dame Drue Heinz. It is likely that both works were originally in the collection at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk. 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 Portrait of Mary Kytson, Lady Darcy of Chiche, later Lady Rivers, reflect the Elizabethan and early Jacobean preoccupation with status, lineage and messages conveyed through symbols and emblems.

Further reading
Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995.
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, bottom right, identifies this sumptuously dressed lady as Mary, the unhappy wife of Thomas, 3rd Baron Darcy of Chiche. The couple were to separate in 1594. Thirty-six years after this portrait was painted, Thomas became the Earl Rivers. Mary’s white sleeves and stomacher are embroidered with hops and carnations, and her black sleeveless gown with honeysuckle. An earlier portrait of Mary’s mother, Lady Kytson, also hangs on this wall, to the left. Both paintings once hung at the Kytsons’ Suffolk house, Hengrave Hall. The French inscription, top right, means roughly ‘never act in haste.’

Gallery label, May 2007

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