Sir Nathaniel Bacon, ‘Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit’ c.1620–5
Sir Nathaniel Bacon, Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit c.1620–5 . Tate

Room 1 in Walk Through British Art

1540

12 rooms in Walk Through British Art

The Cholmondeley Ladies

Unknown artist, Britain, The Cholmondeley Ladies  c.1600–10

According to the inscription (bottom left), this painting shows ‘Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed [gave birth] the same day’. To mark this dynastic event, they are formally presented in bed, their babies wrapped in scarlet fabric. Identical at a superficial glance, the lace, jewellery and eye colours of the ladies and infants are in fact carefully differentiated. The format echoes tomb sculpture of the period. The women, whose precise identities are unclear, were probably painted by an artist based in Chester, near the Cholmondeley estates.

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An Allegory of Man

Unknown artist, Britain, An Allegory of Man  1596 or after

Extremely few British paintings of religious subjects have survived from the 16th century. After the Reformation, Protestant unease about images meant it would have been highly controversial to display either religious paintings or alabasters. The inscription at the bottom, in English, warns against the evil of worldly vanity. Instead it urges prayer to ensure the safe passage of the soul to heaven. The resurrected Christ appears at the top. Below him, at the centre, is Man, shielded by Christian and moral virtues against attacks from all sides by the Seven Deadly Sins.

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Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit

Sir Nathaniel Bacon, Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit  c.1620–5

Nathaniel Bacon did not paint professionally, although he was a skilled amateur artist. The subject matter of this picture, a cookmaid surrounded with lavish produce, is more usually associated with Dutch and Flemish art. It is highly unusual in England for the period and associated only with Bacon, who may have been influenced by pictures of this type during his travels in the Low Countries. Every item depicted is known to have been growing in England. Bacon himself was a keen gardener and grew melons successfully on his Suffolk estate.

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Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee

Marcus Gheeraerts II, Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee  1594

Thomas was related to Sir Henry Lee, Elizabeth I's Champion and creator of imagery for her annual Accession Day celebrations. Henry may have helped devise the complex symbolism of this portrait. Thomas served in the English colonial forces in Ireland. His bare legs are a fantasy evocation both of the dress of an Irish soldier, and that of a Roman hero. Thomas was suspected of treachery to Elizabeth and visited London in 1594 partly to refute this. The Latin inscription in the tree refers to the Roman Mucius Scaevola, who stayed true to Rome even when among its enemies. Lee implies that he too is faithful.

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Portrait of the Artist’s Wife

William Dobson, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife  c.1635–40

Dobson was considered to be one of the best English artists of his time. He was the court painter for King Charles I. Dobson married Judith Sanders, his second wife, in December 1637. This portrait of her is one of his earliest known works. This portrait is a domestic, informal image of his new wife. Probably the result of mainly one sitting, Judith’s direct gaze is fixed on her husband as he paints her.

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Portrait of an Unknown Lady

attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts II, Portrait of an Unknown Lady  c.1595

The identity of this pregnant woman is not known, but her elaborate clothing suggests she was wealthy and upper class. The pearls on her outfit are symbols of ‘purity’. Huge importance was placed on monogamy for women in this period. This painting celebrates the sitter’s role in continuing her husband’s family line. She is smiling, which is unusual in portraits at this time. Gheerearts was a Flemish painter who worked at the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

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Portrait of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, Later 3rd Marquis and 1st Duke of Hamilton, Aged 17

Daniel Mytens the Elder, Portrait of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, Later 3rd Marquis and 1st Duke of Hamilton, Aged 17  1623

Mytens was born and trained in the Netherlands and from 1618 he worked in England. Compared with local artists, he offered a striking naturalism. Hamilton shared an interest in art-collecting with the future Charles I, whom Mytens painted in a similar pose. In 1623, the date of this picture, Hamilton had attended the Prince in Madrid during Charles’s unsuccessful attempt to marry a Spanish princess. There they saw portraits by the young Velasquez. Years later, during the Civil War, the royalist Hamilton was beheaded shortly after Charles himself.

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A Young Lady Aged 21, Possibly Helena Snakenborg, Later Marchioness of Northampton

Unknown artist, Britain, A Young Lady Aged 21, Possibly Helena Snakenborg, Later Marchioness of Northampton  1569

A number of portraits from the 1560s seem to be by the painter of this work, whose identity is unknown. Characteristic features include the angle at which the face is presented and the soft treatment of the hair. The sitter may be Elizabeth I’s maid of honour, Helena Snakenborg, who became a powerful figure at court. In 1565 she had visited England with the Swedish princess Cecilia, remaining there as the fiancée of the elderly Marquis of Northampton, whom she was to marry in 1571. The carnation behind her ear may be a symbol of her betrothal.

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Endymion Porter

William Dobson, Endymion Porter  c.1642–5

Endymion Porter was a favourite courtier of Charles I, for whom he bought works of art. He is shown here as a huntsman with his kill, a possible reference to the ongoing Civil War. His patronage of the arts is indicated by the statue of Apollo and the classical frieze he is leaning on. Dobson painted this portrait at the exiled court of Charles in Oxford. The pose is taken from a portrait of the Roman Emperor Vespasian by Titian, which was then in Charles I’s collection. Porter was later forced into exile in France.

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The Apotheosis of James I and Other Studies: Multiple Sketch for the Banqueting House Ceiling, Whitehall

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, The Apotheosis of James I and Other Studies: Multiple Sketch for the Banqueting House Ceiling, Whitehall  c.1628–30

This is a sketch for the ceiling of the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace. King Charles I wanted it to celebrate his father James I’s reign. He commissioned Rubens, who was visiting London to negotiate a peace treaty with Spain. In the centre James is seated on a globe being lifted up to heaven by Jupiter’s eagle. He is guided by the figure of Justice, to be crowned by Minerva (goddess of Wisdom) and Victory. ‘Apotheosis’ is the transformation from human to divine.

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Lady Anne Pope

Robert Peake, Lady Anne Pope  1615

This portrait of Lady Anne Pope (c.1599–1629) is rich in symbolic elements. Her ornate dress is embroidered with carnations, roses and strawberries, symbols of love and health, while her pearls represent wealth and purity. Her loose hair indicates her maiden status, for Lady Anne never married. The cherries shown on the tree were thought of as the ‘Fruit of Paradise’, and were given as a reward for virtue. The portrait, set in a painted oval, shares the poetic and private qualities found in the miniature paintings that were so popular during this period.

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Portrait of a Lady, Called Elizabeth, Lady Tanfield

Unknown artist, Britain, Portrait of a Lady, Called Elizabeth, Lady Tanfield  1615

As with many portraits of the period, the identity of both sitter and artist is uncertain. The sitter is now thought to be Elizabeth Tanfield (1585/6–1639). Tanfield would have been about 30 years old when this was painted. She was an English poet, playwright, translator, and historian. Tanfield is the first woman known to have written and published a play in English. A number of unusual features of the painting, including the flowers in the woman’s hair, the peach tree, and the lifting of her shawl as if to shield the sun, all suggest that the portrait had a personal meaning that is now lost.

Gallery label, December 2019

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artworks in 1540

Portrait of a Gentleman, probably of the West Family

Unknown artist, Britain, formerly attributed to ?British School, ?16th Century, formerly attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of a Gentleman, probably of the West Family  1545–60

The identity of the sitter is uncertain, but is traditionally thought to be William West (born in 1519), later Baron De La Warr and nephew of the 9th Lord De La Warre, whom he tried to poison to gain the family estates. The ring he wears bears a heraldic motif associated with the West family. Analysis of the oak panel and the pigments used, along with the style of clothes and design of the sword hilt, dates the work to around 1550. The full-frontal pose shows the influence of the portrait of Henry VIII by Holbein, painted in the 1530s.

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A Man in a Black Cap

John Bettes, A Man in a Black Cap  1545

This is the earliest picture in the Tate collection. The artist’s name is inscribed on the back, and the inscriptions on the front indicate that the work was painted ‘in the year of our Lord 1545’, and that the sitter was aged 26. Bettes is first recorded carrying out decorative work for Henry VIII’s court in 1531–3, and he may have worked with Hans Holbein the Younger, the most famous Tudor painter. Originally this portrait was larger, and would have had a blue background similar to the colour often used by Holbein. Due to long exposure to light, the pigment (smalt) has changed to brown.

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Lady Kytson

George Gower, Lady Kytson  1573

Elizabeth Cornwallis (1546/7–1628) married Sir Thomas Kytson in 1560 (his portrait hangs nearby). As Roman Catholics under a Protestant ruler, Elizabeth I, the Kytsons were regularly fined. Indeed, Lady Kytson was briefly imprisoned for her faith. The couple were painted in London in 1573 by Gower, the foremost portraitist of the day. Subsequently, in 1584, Gower and the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard tried to gain a monopoly to produce Elizabeth I’s portraits. As this painting demonstrates, Gower worked in the linear, shadowless style that the queen is known to have preferred.

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Portrait of William Style of Langley

Unknown artist, Britain, Portrait of William Style of Langley  1636

Style was a lawyer involved in the Counter-Reformation religious movement and his portrait is full of symbolic elements. The emblem on the floor and its motto proclaim that the human heart cannot be satisfied by worldly matters, but burns for the spiritual life. Style therefore turns his back on the trappings of his earthly life, represented by his family arms set in the window, by his books and writings and by the small violin. Instead, he moves towards the Church, symbolised by a closed garden, beyond which lies a pagan wilderness, including a classical ruin.

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Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent

Paul Van Somer, Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent  c.1619

Van Somer came to Britain in 1616, and worked for Anne of Denmark, wife of the British king James I. This portrait may relate to her death early in 1619, for the sitter, who is dressed in black, had been a favoured attendant of Queen Anne. Under her heart, Lady Kent wears a jewel with the crowned monogram ‘AR’, standing for the Latin ‘Anna Regina’ (meaning ‘Anna the Queen’). It is probably a closed miniature-case, as a very similar example, given by the queen to another lady in waiting, is in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

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Portrait of an Unknown Lady

Hans Eworth, Portrait of an Unknown Lady  c.1565–8

Her rich dress and jewels show that this woman was of high rank, although her identity is unclear. Her most notable piece of jewellery is the cameo suspended on a black ribbon. It shows the figure of Prudence, one of the cardinal virtues and considered then an especially appropriate quality in a woman. The remains of an inscription, upper right, date the picture to between 1565 and 1568. The large heraldic arms were added later; they belonged to Lady Eleanor Brandon, but she cannot be the woman depicted because she had died in 1547, around 20 years before this was painted.

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artworks in 1540

Portrait of Sir William Killigrew

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Portrait of Sir William Killigrew  1638

This portrait, and that of the sitter’s wife (displayed nearby) were designed as a pair. In both, the compositions and finely painted landscapes echo the work of the 16th-century Venetian painter Titian. Titian’s paintings were admired by the English king Charles I and his court, and greatly influenced van Dyck. Sir William was a courtier to Charles I and later a playwright. He is shown leaning meditatively against the base of a column. A ring, tied by a ribbon to his black satin jacket, may allude romantically to his wife, or denote mourning for a friend or relative.

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Portrait of Lady Margaret Livingstone, 2nd Countess of Wigtown

Adam de Colone, Portrait of Lady Margaret Livingstone, 2nd Countess of Wigtown  1625

Adam de Colone was an artist of Netherlandish parentage active in Scotland in the 1620s, painting members of the Scottish nobility and their families. His portraits are characterised by inscriptions giving the date and age of the sitter in a distinctive calligraphy. Such marks can be seen on this painting, indicating that it was made in 1625 and that it depicts the Countess of Wigtown aged 30. The younger daughter of the Earl of Linlithgow, she married John Fleming, 2nd Earl of Wigtown in 1609 and had eight children. The family were based at Cumbernauld Castle, Lanarkshire, seat of the Fleming dynasty.

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artworks in 1540

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman

Cornelius Johnson, Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman  1629

This gentleman wears the crimson sash of the Order of the Bath but he has not been identified further. Like its paired portrait nearby, presumably of the sitter’s wife, this one bears Johnson’s monogram ‘C.J.’ and the date 1629. Three years later, Anthony van Dyck settled in Britain: his work was to influence Johnson’s style profoundly. These two earlier portraits, however, demonstrate Johnson’s characteristically intimate and pensive work, combined with the softened, rather brushy, technique of his mid-career.

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Sir Thomas Kytson

George Gower, Sir Thomas Kytson  1573

Gower, who was from a family of Yorkshire gentry, was an important portrait-painter in the 1570s and 1580s. In 1581 he became Serjeant-Painter to Elizabeth I, and supervised decorative painting in the royal palaces. Sir Thomas Kytson (1540–1603) of Hengrave, Suffolk, visited London with his second wife Elizabeth between March and June 1573. The family papers record a payment ‘to Gower of London, painter’ for pictures. Sir Thomas’s portrait, and that of his wife which hangs nearby, remained at Hengrave Hall until 1952. They were presumably originally the same size, but his picture was trimmed at a later date.

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Portrait of Elizabeth Roydon, Lady Golding

Hans Eworth, Portrait of Elizabeth Roydon, Lady Golding  1563

Elizabeth Roydon is shown here as the widow of her second husband, Cuthbert Vaughan, who died in 1563 in action in France. She married Sir Thomas Golding of Belchamp St Paul, Essex, the following year. Her maiden arms of Roydon, in the top left hand corner, were added later, presumably by one of her descendants, to emphasise her status as an heiress in her own right. The restraint of her attire is appropriate for a widow. The ‘HE’ monogram of the Antwerp-trained artist Hans Eworth can be seen also in the top left hand corner.

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Portrait of an Unknown Lady

Cornelius Johnson, Portrait of an Unknown Lady  1629

Johnson, born in London in 1593 to a German/Flemish immigrant family, became an extremely prolific portraitist, working on every scale, including painting full-length groups. The sitter is thought to be the wife of the sitter in the portrait nearby. Its unusual scale – halfway between a full-size portrait and a miniature – is found in other works by Johnson.

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artworks in 1540

Distant View of York

Alexander Keirincx, Distant View of York  1639

This view of York was commissioned by Charles I as part of a group of ten paintings of towns and castles in the north of England and Scotland. It is dominated by the west front of York Minster. As the political situation deteriorated in the run-up to the Civil War, Charles I travelled north to confront hostile Scottish rebels at Berwick in May 1639. The artist may have accompanied him on this expedition. Keirincx was born and trained in Antwerp, later moving to Utrecht. He worked in Britain from 1638 to 1641, living in Orchard Street in Westminster.

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Adam de Colone, Portrait of John Fleming, 2nd Earl of Wigtown  1625

John Fleming, 2nd Earl of Wigtown, was a Scottish politician active in the courts of King James VI of Scotland and I of England, and Charles I. He spent time in both Edinburgh and London. This portrait, and the one de Colone painted of Fleming’s wife Margaret Livingstone were not painted looking towards each other. This suggests that although they were made in the same year, they were not intended as a pair. As de Colone worked in both London and Edinburgh, it may be that he painted them separately, or that they were to be displayed in different locations.

Gallery label, May 2019

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artworks in 1540

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Marcus Gheeraerts II, Sir Henry Lee  1600

Sir Henry Lee (1533–1611) was a favourite courtier of Elizabeth I, appointed as Queen’s Champion and Master of the Armoury. He organised the annual Accession Day celebrations, turning them into large and spectacular public festivals in honour of the queen. Sir Henry commissioned portraits for his house at Ditchley in Oxfordshire, including the famous Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I (now in the National Portrait Gallery). In 1597 he was created a Knight of the Garter, the highest chivalric order in England, and is shown here wearing its insignia: the Collar (gold chain) and George (jewelled medal of St George slaying the Dragon).

Gallery label, February 2016

27/28
artworks in 1540

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William Dobson, Portrait of the Artist  Date not known

28/28
artworks in 1540

Art in this room

The Cholmondeley Ladies
Unknown artist, Britain The Cholmondeley Ladies c.1600–10
An Allegory of Man
Unknown artist, Britain An Allegory of Man 1596 or after
Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit
Sir Nathaniel Bacon Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit c.1620–5
Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee
Marcus Gheeraerts II Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee 1594
Portrait of the Artist’s Wife
William Dobson Portrait of the Artist’s Wife c.1635–40
Portrait of an Unknown Lady
attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts II Portrait of an Unknown Lady c.1595

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