Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Courtier In White Spurned by Queen Elizabeth I: Is he Raleigh or de Vere?

 Detail from A Courtier and His Lady by Circle of Marcus Gheeraerts (private collection). Photograph taken from a print hung in my living room.

*Updated 9/7-19: I've been going back and forth on this portrait for a decade now, but I think I've finally concluded, to my satisfaction at least, who the sitter is.  See details below.

I recently learned from Stella Samaras, a reader of this blog, that a catalogue available from Weiss Gallery ("Tudor and Stewart Portraits 1530-1600") written by Mark Weiss, with the assistance of Sir Roy Strong, attributed this portrait not to Robert Peake but to the circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger and dates the picture to c. 1590-1595. As to this date, I'm surprised that the wrist ruffles didn't cause the Weiss to date the picture to 1584 or earlier since ruffles were replaced by cuffs around then.

I have a print of this portrait in my living room, and for decades now I've been debating whether the shunned courtier in white is Sir Walter Raleigh or Edward de Vere. I once wrote a blog post arguing it was Raleigh. Now I'm not so sure. (*And now I've reversed my opinion once again and believe it's Raleigh: see below evidence.)

The catalogue states the portrait was at some point "dramatically overpainted." The courtier was scamped with a head of dark hair, a beard, and a hat "so that he better resembled Sir Walter Raleigh." Stranger yet, the woman in the background so resembling Elizabeth I was overpainted out of the portrait. And the inscription "Sir. Walt. Rawleigh" was added to the upper right corner.   

Note that in the portrait of Raleigh below, he has cuffs instead of ruffles. The inscription, if accurate, establishes the portrait was painted in 1588, a few years after wrist ruffles went out of style, so the cuffs fit the inscribed date.
Sir Walter Raleigh (NPG London; image via wikicommons). Note that in this 1588 portrait he was wearing cuffs, not wrist ruffles. If you look into the upper left corner you will see a painting of a moon above the sea, which was an emblem expressing Raleigh's devotion to Elizabeth, the moon goddess Diana who controlled the tides of the sea.
Regarding the lady shunning the courtier, the catalogue explains, "Closer examination of this figure in black 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. Could this image be of anyone else other than the Queen herself?"

Yes, how could it not be Elizabeth? This raises the question as to why any restorer would paint the queen out of the picture? Was this the act of somebody purposely trying to greatly devalue a portrait or was it an act of censorship? 
Note: The above photograph was taken of the print hung in my living room
I've always assumed that the portrait was set in the Tower of London and that the contrite nobleman had been imprisoned there by Elizabeth. (Southampton had a portrait of himself painted in the Tower shortly after he was released, so maybe this courtier did the same.) De Vere was held in the Tower in 1581 for siring a bastard. Raleigh was thrown in the Tower for the first time in 1591 for getting married without permission. So which courtier is depicted? And when was it painted?  

The identification of the painter as circle of Gheeraerts might hint that the portrait was created as a ploy to regain favor with the queen. Sir Henry Lee employed Gheeraerts to this same purpose with the Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I. Sir Roy Strong once noted that Gheeraert's influence on courtly portraits could be seen as early as 1586. Peake's influence began earlier.   
Emblem upper right: the moon governing the sea (NPG London image via wikicommons).
Since the portrait in question is privately owned, its identification can only be resolved (if at all) via costume dating. Is the peascod doublet with padded bishop-style sleeves without wings and the tilted French linen figure-of-eight collar 1581 or 1590?

When I wrote Mark Weiss regarding the portrait, he was kind enough to correct me on a few points. He also mentioned that he was unaware that wrist ruffs went out of style in the early 1580's (and cautioned me that fashion cut-off points were not absolute). Mr. Weiss further stated he would inquire with the costume expert Susan North at the V&A regarding cuffs. I emailed him back an excerpt from a letter written by Susan North to Barbara Burris (regarding another portrait) that stated in no uncertain terms that wrist ruffles went out of fashion in the 1580's:
"I would agree that the dress does not appear to date from 1611 . . . The general shape of the doublet with close fitting sleeves and a waistline dipping only slightly below its natural place in front corresponds with men’s dress of the 1570’s . . . Regarding your comments on the wrist ruffs, I agree that those go out of fashion in the 1580’s."
So, for a while at least, I was left believing it might be de Vere pictured in the Tower c. 1581, but then two things changed my mind again. The first was that I came upon a portrait of Raleigh at the National Portrait Gallery of Ireland wearing very similar type wrist decorations in 1598.  (One mistake I made was assuming these were wrist ruffles when they were, strictly speaking, extensions of a wavy transparent linen fabric more like a fall collar.) Then I realized how small Raleigh's thumbs were, almost baby thumbs. That same Trump-like thumb is also visible in the mystery portrait. (Thanks to Graham Appleyard for pointing out the childlike size of the hands in the comments section.) This, to me, was the deciding factor: the small thumb pointed to Raleigh.

One other consideration is the buttons on the doublet appear to be decorated with seed pearls, and pearls were a personal symbol for Raleigh that turn up in almost all his portraits (see below example).  However I haven't been able to confirm these are seed pearls on the buttons. If they are, then that's would seem to settle the matter.
Sir Walter Raleigh by William Seger 1598 (National Portrait Gallery Ireland, image via wikicommons). In this portrait Raleigh's costume is fabulously decorated with pearls. His wrist extensions are a transparent stached linen similar to those worn by the Courtier in White.
It's worth noting that the glove visible in the portrait is not a gauntlet. Gauntlets, with their large and decorated wrist coverings, came into fashion in the 1590's. So there's still confusion about when it was painted, but I feel strongly that it's Raleigh. The confirmed 1598 portrait of Raleigh shows a courtier much older looking than the unknown courtier in white. With all this in mind, I have to agree with Mark Weiss that this is likely a portrait of Raleigh c. 1592. That date coincides with Raleigh's release from the Tower of London. The portrait was very likely a gift to Elizabeth designed to show repentance and/or gratitude.
Above: This portrait of Horace Vere by G. Glower from 1594 (image from wikicommons) shows an nearly identical jerkin as that worn by the Courtier in White. There are no wings at the shoulder and the peascod bulge is extended. White was the fashionable color for the later years of Elizabeth's reign.
See also the post: 20 Essential Questions To Ask When Attempting To Date An Elizabethan Portrait By Costume

Special thanks to Stella Samaras for setting me straight about the Weiss Gallery write up and also to Graham Appleyard for pointing out the child-like hands of the sitter. 

Below: the controversial Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare mid-cleaning 1988 (Folger Shakespeare Library, left) & Gheeraerts' Courtier in White (private collection, right)
Above: ruffles instead of cuffs plus a glove lacking a gauntlet

The Folger Shakespeare Library owns the Ashbourne portraits seen above. 

1 comment:

  1. The 1588 picture of Walter Raleigh is very odd indeed! His hand is most definitely a female hand, with pearls around the wrist!! The puffed out sleeve closely resembles that of a female sleeve, especially one's worn by the Queen herself. The bodice again is another match for a woman's apparel. The rest is clearly male wear, and added on probably after the first bits were painted. Including Walter's head which sits uncomfortably on the body. Presumably the painting started out as being of a woman, perhaps even the Queen! And at some later stage was made into Walter. Why he didn't object to having a female hand, we will never know.