Monday, September 16, 2019

A Curious, Rare, & Beautiful Portrait of an Unidentified Elizabethan Couple

Above: Unknown Couple by Unknown Hand (private collection, image via wikicommons.)
I came upon this excellent double portrait of an Elizabethan couple via wikicommons yesterday and sat down with it this morning and within two hours time thought, for a moment, that I had identified the two sitters. 

The portrait is listed as an unknown couple by unknown artist of the English School. The date 1596 is inscribed above the couple. (Never trust inscriptions!) It's curious that a double portrait would not have a coat of arms or any inscriptions aside from a date because the whole point of a double portrait was to establish family ties.

Upon seeing this portrait, I immediately thought of a similar portrait of a woman by the painter Hieronimo Custodis, but I soon learned that the portrait it reminded me of (see below) is no longer attributed to Custodis. The below portrait supposedly depicts Lady Mary Harington, and there is a excellent discussion of that portrait online in an article from the British Arts Journal (Autumn 2011) entitled, "A New Portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington."

The 1933 date on the Mary Harington portrait is incorrect (never trust inscriptions!). That portrait, as the article explains, was identified via its similarities to two other portraits of Mary Harington (shown below). It's worth noting that Mary's husband John Harington, a godson of Elizabeth I, invented the flush toilet. He was also a well-respected poet with an acerbic wit.
Above: called Lady Mary Harington bu unknown artist (private collection, image via
Two other portraits supposedly of Lady Mary Harington, both of which show similar style dresses (image via
Since the unknown man's standing collar with small figure-of-eight ruff seemed more in line with men's costumes from the 1560's, I decided to consult Jane Ashelford's DRESS IN THE AGE OF ELIZABETH, and inside that book I came upon the double portrait (seen below) of Sir Reginald and Lady Mohun. The resemblance between the two couples seemed fairly strong to my eye. The Mohun portrait was painted in 1603 and is considered to be the earliest example of a full-length double portrait of a couple in England. It's also the first portrait I've seen that depicts affection between two people in that their arms are intertwined. 
Above: Sir Reginald and Lady Mohun, unknown artist, image via Philip Mold Historical Portraits. Ashelford indicates the portrait is owned by the collection of Lord Dunraven, Adare. This photo is cut off at the knee but the portrait itself is full length.
There are similarities between the two couples but there are differences as well, so I am simply posting this to draw attention to what I consider to be a striking double portrait of a still unidentified couple. It's worth stating that Reginald Mohun was married three times and therefore the unknown double portrait might depict him with one of his other wives. Or it might not depict him at all. But it's a lovely portrait that has far more personality to it than most Elizabethan paintings. If you know anything about this double portrait please leave a note in the comments.

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