- Unknown artist, Britain
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 2020 × 1243 mm
- Bequeathed by Drue Heinz DBE 2018
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 N06090–N06091). 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.
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.
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