Friday, February 8, 2013

The Courtier in White Spurned By Queen Elizabeth I: does this portrait depict Edward de Vere or Sir Walter Raleigh?

 Detail from A Courtier and His Lady by Marcus Gheeraerts (private collection)

My earlier post on this curious portrait stated that this courtier fallen from grace with his queen had been painted by Robert Peake; however the Weiss Gallery attributes the portrait to Gheeeraerts the Younger and dates it c. 1592.  (I'm surprised that the ruffled sleeves didn't cause the Weiss to date the picture to c. 1585).  Anyway here's what's really fascinating about the Weiss examination.

Overpaint and censorship.  The Weiss file states the portrait was at some vague point in history "dramatically overpainted".  The courtier in white was manipulated with added dark hair, beard, and hat to make him resemble Sir Walter Raleigh.  Stranger yet, the woman resembling Queen Elizabeth I was overpainted out of the portrait entirely.  And the inscription "Sir. Walt. Rawleigh" was added to the upper right corner.   

Why overpaint the Queen from the portrait and thereby devalue it greatly?  It seems likely this portrait was censored for political reasons.  If so, when was this done and why?  The Weiss Gallery states rather vaguely that the portrait was overpainted "probably in the 19th century."   

The curators at the Weiss Gallery agree that the lady depicted in the background (later censored) was likely Queen Elizabeth I.  "Closer examination of this figure in black," they write, "reveals she has reddish hair, wears a coronet and carries a feather fan . . . Around her neck she wears what is perhaps not just a necklace, but possibly a larger chain denoting an office or order.  I so, could this image be of anyone else other than the Queen herself?"

The identification of the painter as Gheeraerts hints that the portrait might have been a ploy to regain favor with the Queen.  Sir Henry Lee employed Gheeraerts to this purpose with the impressive Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I.  

So does the portrait depict the chastened Sir Walter Raleigh or the Midnight Earl Edward de VereHere is a link to original post with all the side-by-side comparisons you need to decide for yourself.

Related links:
Link to the wonderful Weiss Virtual Gallery in London. 
Link to the Folger Shakespeare Library's Virtual Gallery.
Special thanks to Stella Samaras for setting me straight. 

below: the controversial Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare mid-cleaning 1988 (Folger Shakespeare Library, left) & Gheeraerts' Courtier in White (private collection, right)

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