Unknown artist, Britain

Portrait of Sir Thomas Pope, Later 3rd Earl of Downe


Not on display

Unknown artist, Britain
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2026 × 1194 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the Art Fund and the Pilgrim Trust 1980

Display caption

Sir Thomas Pope of Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire became the 3rd Earl of Downe late in life, in 1660. This painting, however, was probably made in the mid-1630s. Sir Thomas is wearing clothes that would have been fashionable at that time, although the Jacobean 'curtains-and-carpet' formula of this portrait would by then have been rather old fashioned.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

British School 17th Century

Portrait of Sir Thomas Pope, later 3rd Earl of Downe
Oil on canvas
2025 x 1195 mm
Inscribed in a later hand: ‘Thos. Earl of Down | IId. Son of Willm. first | Earl of Down’ in top left.
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid), with contributions from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the National Art Collections Fund and the Pilgrim Trust, 1980.

Ownership history
…; perhaps Wroxton Abbey sale, 24 May 1933 (679); sold by H. Freeman & Sons of 8 Rose and Crown Yard, London SW1 at Christie’s, 16 February 1934 (97), where bought Francis Howard; Loel Guinness, by whom lent to Tate from 1953 until purchased from him 1980.

The Tate Gallery 1978–80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, pp.6–7 (entry by Elizabeth Einberg).

Dressed almost entirely in black, the subject stands on a noticeably rumpled imported carpet, with a partly looped-up red curtain behind. He grasps a white glove with scalloped edges in his left hand and rests his right, ungloved hand on a chair richly upholstered in red velvet, on which lies his black hat with a red and blue ribbon. The visible gilded hilt of his rapier indicates that it is of an English type common in the 1630s.1

The sitter’s costume dates this work to the early or mid-1630s. The apparent age here of the sitter would fit Thomas Pope, who was born in 1598. The inscription must have been added considerably later, certainly after 1660, the year in which Pope inherited the earldom of Downe from his nephew, whose first name had also been Thomas.2 Very similar inscriptions are found on several portraits of members of the Pope family, particularly ones sold from Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire in 1933.3 It has not proved possible to trace this portrait to that important collection, although it is possible that lot 679 in the Wroxton Abbey sale – of ‘Thomas, 3rd Earl of Downe, in black court dress with lace collar, sword and embroidered glove in left hand, by Marcus Gheeraedts, 3 ft 9 ½ ins by 4 ft 9 ins’ is the present work described there with incorrect measurements. Sir Thomas was born at Wroxton and, following his death in January 1668, was buried there.

Although Marcus Gheeraerts II painted a number of members of the Pope family from the mid-1590s onwards,4 an attribution to him cannot be sustained. Stylistically, this portrait harks back to the ‘chair, carpet and shiny curtains’ formula used for elite portraiture in England in the first two decades of the seventeenth century; this has been particularly associated with the painter William Larkin (1590s–1619) although it was also employed by other portraitists.5

The rumpled carpet shows the unidentified painter demonstrating his skill in the depiction of a luxury object. Such a rucked-up carpet occurs in a number of portraits painted in England, and goes back at least as early as Hans Holbein’s great 1537 wall-painting of Henry VIII and his family, which was on view in Whitehall Palace in London until the palace was destroyed by fire in 1698.6

Thomas Pope matriculated at Oxford in 1614 and was knighted at Woodstock in 1625. On 30 April 1636 he married Beata, daughter of Sir Henry Poole of Sapperton, Gloucestershire. It is possible that the present portrait was painted in connection with the negotiations for this marriage. During the Civil War, he was to be imprisoned for six weeks in Oxford by the Royalists.

Sir Thomas was the brother of Anne Pope and the brother-in-law of Elizabeth Pope, who are the subjects of two half-length portraits of about 1615 by the English artist Robert Peake that are also in the Tate collection (Tate T00068 and T00067 respectively).

Karen Hearn
May 2006


1 Note in Tate file from Mr A.V.B. Norman, Master of the Royal Armouries, September 1980.
2 See Burke’s Extinct Baronetage, London 1844, pp.420–1; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol.44, pp.884–5.
3 The contents of Wroxton Abbey were sold on 22 May 1933 by the long-defunct auctioneers E.H. Tipping of 30 Cornmarket Street, Oxford.
44 See Roy Strong, The English Icon, London 1969, no.258, p.274, and no.289, p.291; Karen Hearn, Marcus Gheeraerts II: Elizabethan Artist, London 2002, pp.48–51, repr. p.49.
5 Roy Strong, Larkin, Milan 1995; see also Oliver Millar’s review of this book in Burlington Magazine, vol.139, May 1997, p.343.
6 For the ‘Whitehall Mural’, see Susan Foister, Holbein & England, New Haven and London 2004, pp.180–96.

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