Friday, November 8, 2019

My Final Argument that the Portrait of an Unknown Fashion Fantastico in North Carolina Depicts the Privateer Sir Thomas Cavendish

Above: Unknown Gent (NCMA 67.13.4) & Sir Thomas Cavendish (image via
This distinguished-looking gent, decked out in a fabulous gold-leaf fleur-de-lis doublet, lives anonymously inside the North Carolina Museum of Art, where his keepers refer to him affectionately as "Mr. Fancy Pants." The sitter bears an uncanny resemblance to a number of confirmed portraits of Sir Thomas Cavendish, the English privateer who claimed to have burned over a hundred Spanish ships. Cavendish, an artistocrat known as "the Navigator," was the third man to ever circumnavigate the globe. I'm convinced the portrait does depict Cavendish, and this post will attempt to present the evidence via an examination of the portrait's provenance, costume, pigments, and also the impresa (or visual riddle) posed by the enigmatic thunderstorms painted in the upper-left-hand corner.
Above: Unknown Man (North Carolina Museum of Art, left) & Sir Thomas Cavendish
 in 1591 by Gheeraerts the Younger (image taken for educational purposes from Ashelford's
 book DRESS IN THE TIME OF ELIZABETH). The painting of Cavendish is owned by the
 Trustees of the Will of the 8th Duke of Berkeley. Note that both men are wearing peascod
 doublets above the bum-rolls trunk hose that came into fashion during the 1580's. 
Above: close-up comparison between unknown gent (MCMA) and Sir Thomas Cavendish 
by Gheeraerts. Click on the image for a higher-resolution comparison.
Let's begin with a blog post provided by the North Carolina Museum of Art stating their theory that this unknown man was likely an Elizabethan privateer. Dr. Perry Hurt, one of the museum's associate conservators, noted in his blog post that the portrait had been painted using actual gold and silver leaf as well as an expensive red dye called cochineal (derived from the insect of that name found in the Americas). Hunt believed these three materials were used in the portrait to reflect the Spanish booty brought home to England by the unknown privateer. So let's start this argument by stating that Sir Thomas Cavendish was indeed a famous privateer who specialized in plundering the Spanish of gold, silver, and cochineal prior to being lost at sea during his attempt to be the first man to circle the globe twice.

Now let's have a look in the upper-left corner at the portrait's impresa. Elizabethans loved these visual riddles, but this one seems easy to solve.
Above: detail from portrait of an unknown gent kept in the North Carolina Museum of Art.

 The device depicts a series of sinister storm clouds raining onto what appears to be a blue iris with the French motto SANS ORAGE ("without storm") sheltering the flower. I would take the meaning to be something akin to: without hardship you get no Spanish booty. But what's more important is that Cavendish had at least one other portrait of himself painted standing beneath similar storm clouds while garbed garishly in gold.
Above: Unknown Man (North Carolina Museum of Art  NCMA.67.13.4) & "Portrait of
 Sir Thomas Cavendish" by John Bettes (image from Flickr).
Below: detail of thunder storms perched over Cavendish's left shoulder.
More evidence the sitter is Cavendish can be found inside the museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the portrait now resides. The museum's collection of British portraits contains 25 pictures total. Yet four of the sitters are confirmed members of the Cavendish family. Interestingly I had no idea this was the case when I first suggested to the museum their sitter was Cavendish. It's quite the coincidence but perhaps nothing more than that, because the family that donated the known Cavendish portraits is not the same family who donated Mr. Fancy Pants. But then again perhaps there is some connection between the two families; it would be nice to know if that were the case.

A portrait of Sir Thomas Cavendish in North Carolina makes perfect sense in that he played a key role in the history of that area. The Fort Raleigh websites recalls Cavendish in this way:
Thomas Cavendish also played an important role in the expeditions know as the Roanoke Voyages. In 1585 he participated with Sir Richard Grenville in planting the Ralph Lane colony by bringing his ship Elizabeth to the area now known as North Carolina.
It seems likely the picture was painted c. 1588 when Cavendish returned to England after circumnavigating the globe. His ship Desire contained incredible wealth in its hold. He was knighted by Elizabeth I, who was so impressed with his booty she accepted his invitation to sup with him on his ship. 

An examination of the costume supports the date of c. 1588. The bombast stuffing of the mid-to-late 1580s can be seen in the sitter's Bishop (or farthingale) style sleeves, in his pronounced peascod doublet, and in his upper trunk hose (the style was called a mini bum roll). There are no wings at the shoulder of the doublet, which is also consistent with c. 1588. The sitter is wearing a gorget around his neck, which was a fashionable way to let everyone know you've fought in battles, which Cavendish certainly had. The sitter is also adorned by a sash that was perhaps a favor from Queen Elizabeth (the beautiful sash is painted with real gold and silver). His hair style is consistent with c. 1588 as he is sporting the hyper popular Armada Perm just as it is giving way to the longer rock-star hair styles of the 1590's. However the fall collar of Italian cutwork seems more consistent with the 1590's. Cavendish was lost sea in 1592. His portrait by Gheeraerts the Younger was painted in 1591.

We don't know who painted the North Carolina portrait, although its hard not to suspect Gheeraerts the Younger. However the use of real gold and silver as pigments might indicate the portrait was painted by Nicholas Hilliard, who was known to employ those precious metals in that way. Although Hilliard is famous for his portrait miniatures, he also painted some amazing full-length portraits. 

The portrait of the unknown man was donated to the museum in 1967 by Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, who also donated at least two other excellent portraits to the museum. One of these portraits appears, to my eye, to depict the privateer Sir Frances Drake. Another sitter resembles Sir Walter Raleigh, so it's hard not to suspect a nautical theme inside the MacLamroc collection. These portraits had unfortunately been misidentified centuries earlier. The museum acknowledges the current inscription on them are incorrect. 

It's also worth mentioning that the Cavendish clan came to England from Normandy, or at least believed they did, so the French motto and embroidered fleur-de-lis might well reflect that heritage.
Below: comparison of left hands from the same two portraits. The hand on the right is the
 unknown man's. The confirm Cavendish portrait (right) is owned by the Trustees of the Will
 of the 8th Duke of Berkeley
Above: NCMA.67.13.3 Unknown Man (center) surrounded by various portraits of Sir Frances Drake
 taken from Wikimedia.
Below: NCMA.67.13.5 Unknown Man (center) with two portraits of Sir Walter Raleigh from the
National Portrait Gallery in London.
 Below: announcement of the mystery surrounding these unknown sitters on the website of the North
 Carolina Museum of Art

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Does This Amazing Full-length Portrait in North Carolina Depict Sir Walter Raleigh?

Unknown Gent North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA.67.13.5)
Of late I've become fixated upon the incredible British Collection inside the North Carolina Museum of Art. This collection contains some of the most beautiful Elizabethan and Jacobean paintings you will find anywhere in the world. But why are so many of the sitters in the collection unidentified? Here's how the museum explains the mystery on its website.
(Lesson: Never trust inscriptions.)
In the past weeks I've argued that many of these sitters were power players (eg. Mary Queen of Scots & Sir Thomas Cavendish) and that the quality of the artists reflects the status of the sitters. Along those lines, I suspect the unknown man above (NCMA.67.13.5) might be Sir Walter Raleigh, whose statue can be found at the convention center not far from the museum in Raleigh, North Carolina.

So let's have a closer look at this guy.
Detail from Unknown Gent North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA.67.13.5)
Quite the handsome jack, yes? No wonder Queen Elizabeth was fond of Raleigh, that is, prior to tossing him into the Tower for secretly marrying Bess Throckmorton. (I also suspect the museum owns a portrait of Bess, but that will be dealt with in a separate post.) But is this actually Raleigh? To decide this, we need to examine the costume in an attempt to date the portrait while bearing in mind that Raleigh was born in either 1552 or 1554.

(Note: to read my post on how to date Elizabethan portraits by costume click here.)
Above: NPG portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh (left) and the Unknown Man from NCMA (right). All images in this post are used for educational purposes. The images are taken via Wikimedia.
 Above: Sir Walter Raleigh after Zuccaro National Galleries of Scotland (left) & unknown man
During the 1580's, especially the later 80's, the male form became comically inflated with bombast stuffing added to the doublet, sleeves, and hose, but the only stuffing evident here is in the trunk hose and (less so) in the lower doublet. So I think it's safe to assume the costume is on one side or the other of the fabulous bombast and peascod fad of the 80's.
Above: detail that reveals pointed end to the doublet with slight overhang, indicating pre-1600. After the turn of the century the girdle became rounded.
Let's begin with the doublet, which shows only slight evidence of a peascod curve in its pointed belly, a style which began around 1575. (The male waist became rounded, not pointed, starting around 1600.) The waistline looks natural, which could date the portrait c. 1570's. The lack of a visible codpiece indicates anytime post-1560's. The skirt of the doublet is long, which could suggests pre-c.1575 (or 1590's). The overall look is relaxed.  
Above: Robert Dudley, c. 1560 by van der Muelin (Yale Center for British Art). No padding visible in sleeves or lower doublet. Wrist ruffles, jerkin slashed and pinked with long skirt ending in pickadil border forming a spear-shape. Jerkin (outer jacket) sleeveless and winged with double layer of pickadil tabs. Tall standing collar also ends with pickadils. Sleeves of doublet tight to skin. Codpiece prominent. Hose paneled, padded into onion-shape "ketteldrums." Small figure-of-eight ruff collar worn open at neck (ruff likely still attached to shirt as were wrist ruffles). Hair short. Black cap with ostrich feather.
The bum-roll, or the upper trunk hose, falls to mid-thigh and resembles what was then called "kettledrums," except they are cut more square. And they are also not as heavily padded as kettledrums typically were. (Venetian breeches, which came into style in the 1580's, fell to the knee.) The extremely loose-fitting canion leggings, which match the paneled hose and doublet, could date the portrait as early as c. 1575 (when canions first appeared), but, again, these are not normal canions. The loose fit seems unique.

The figure-eight ruff collar (closed at the neck) came into fashion in the 1570's and remained in fashion through the 80's. The ruff it is not tilted dramatically forward. The figure-eight fold is simple, not convoluted or layered as became fashionable in the mid-1590's. A simple falling-band collar came into style in the late 1590's and remained so well into the turn of the century. 

Cuffs first appeared about c. 1585 and it's rare to find cuffs before then. Also the sword belt and ganger are fabulously embroidered, a style more associated with c. 1600, although I've seen many examples of it much earlier. (Was the sword belt created to match the doublet, etc?) The shoulder wings of the doublet (or perhaps jerkin) are very broad and taper toward the armpit, a style that would be consistent with the 1570's, although tabbed borders were more common then. 

So the costume is vexing (to me at least). It could be Elizabethan or it could be Jacobean. It's not too difficult to date most costumes to within 5 years, but this one remains an enigma.
Above: Sir Walter Raleigh 1588 (Nat. Portrait Gallery London, left) & unknown man NCMA. Note the padded Bishop style sleeves, large buttons, peascod doublet, & curly hair of the mid 1580's. The popular falling collar is already evident in the 1588 portrait.
 Below: close up details of above sitters
Above: costume from 1584 (left) from Ashelford's DRESS IN THE TIME OF ELIZABETH. Right: costume 1568 from Cunnington's HANDBOOK OF ENGLISH COSTUME IN THE 16TH CENTURY. Click on image for larger view. Both these book are excellent guides to Elizabethan costume.
Raleigh was a clothes horse, what Tom Nashe called "a dapper lacke." The more fashionable a courtier was, the harder it becomes to date his portraits by costume. Raleigh traveled widely even as a young man so we can expect him to be ahead of the game fashion-wise. He introduced fashions. And he also clung to some fashions after others had discarded them.

Above: detail from Unknown Gent, a hat clasped against the hip (NCMA). No feather or pearl is visible. His linen wrist cuffs can also be seen in this detail. Also note how the sleeves are not padded (though perhaps they are a little). The hat his of the style Raleigh helped make famous.
Also note that the sitter is clutching, half behind his back, a hat of the style Raleigh made famous (see examples below). Although it is difficult to date portraits by hats, we can date courtiers, with some success, by their hair styles, and here we see it's getting longish and is brushed upward with gum, a fashion that began about 1570. Permed hair became very popular in the 1580's. And longer rock-star hair became popular in the 1590's and later.

Above: Sir Walter Raleigh (NPG D7672, unknown artist) & Unknown man (NCMA)
Above: a portrait miniature of Raleigh by Nicholas Hilliard (right, image from wikimedia) & Unknown Gent (NCMA). Note how the ears are similar as well as the smallish mouths (with lower lip jutted forward). Hilliard tended to paint his subjects with blue eyes in an attempt to ingratiate himself with his noble clients.
 Determining who the painter was would open up new avenues of research. He probably wasn't English, as the English weren't gifted artists with the exception of Nicholas Hilliard, who made his living by beautifying courtiers and queens, so perhaps this is one of his beautified in-large portraits. It's perhaps worth pointing out that Frederico Zucarro came to England c. 1574 for a short stay and painted Raleigh's portrait when Raleigh was around 20. The National Galleries of Scotland has a copy made from the original Zucarro, and that copy (scroll upward) shows a strong resemblance to the unknown sitter in North Carolina.
Above: Unknown man & last known portrait of Raleigh (image via ebay). 
 Above: Sir Walter Raleigh, English School, 1598, by William Segar (Nat. Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, left) & unknown man NCMA.
 Below: close-up comparison of the above two portraits

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Is This Unknown Woman in the North Carolina Museum of Art Mary Queen of Scots?

Above: Mary Queen of Scots by Nicholas Hilliard (left, Victoria & Albert Museum) & Unknown Woman (NCMA.67.13.7)
At first glance I assumed this unknown woman in the North Carolina Museum of Art was Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (see earlier post), but now I believe she's more likely to be Mary Queen of Scots (aka Mary Stuart). The sitter is, after all, wearing the trademarked French hood that is actually known now as the "Mary Stuart hood." 

This collection, some of the finest Elizabethan and Jacobean art I've seen anywhere, depicts sitters who are, in many cases, royal or at least of royal blood. The social status of these sitters match the skill of the painters. This collection should be world famous. Many of its sitters are. 

With that said, I will let the pictures do the talking here.
 Note: all of the image in this post are taken from Wikimedia and are used here for educational purposes.
Above: Mary Queen of Scots (Hermitage Museum) & Unknown Woman (NCMA)
Above: Mary Queen of Scots (Royal Collection, Holyrood Castle) & Unknown (NCMA)
Above: Mary Queen of Scots c. 1560 (after Clouet, Wallace Collection) & Unknown (NCMA)
Above: Mary Queen of Scots (NPG London) & Unknown (NCMA)
Regarding this last comparison (below), I want to draw attention to the sitter's hands, specifically the left hand of the confirmed Mary Queen of Scots in which you will see an extremely long hand with a notably long middle finger.
Above: Mary Queen of Scots (after, Hilliard, NPG 429) & Uknown Woman (NCMA)
I have to say that the costume, which is so Mary Queen of Scots, combined with her large hands, make me believe the unknown woman is actually Mary Queen of Scots and not Mary Sidney Herbert (even though I want it to be Mary Sidney). I will leave you with this side-by-side of the unknown woman's hands, a detail in which you can see the incredible skill of the painter. Is it Hilliard? Gheeraerts the Younger? 
Above: detail of hands from Unknown Woman  (NCMA.67.13.7)

Update: there is a well-known portrait of a woman wearing a French hood (see below) that has long been misidentified as Mary Herbert Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. In fact, the portrait depicts Mary Scudamore. Sadly this is the portrait most identified with Mary Sidney Herbert. I have been unable to find a single portrait in which Mary Sidney Herbert actually poses in a French hood (such a portrait might well exist but I can't find it). By contrast, costume can obviously be used to support the case that the unknown woman in North Carolina is Mary (Stuart) Queen of Scots. The hood style seen below is known, after all, as the Mary Stuart hood.
Above: Called Mary Scudamore by Gheeraerts the Younger (NPG64, London)  

Update 2: I have since found two portraits of Mary Sidney Herbert wearing a French hood. See below.

 Above: Mary Sideny from the Fricke Collection (via Pin-interest)
Below: Mary Sidney by James Tuck (after Harding) via Wikimedia

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Does the Mysterious Ghost Girl Portrait in the North Carolina Museum of Art Depict Queen Elizabeth I?

Armada Portrait of Elizbeth I by George Gower (NPGNPG541) & NCMA 67.13.6 Unknown Woman
My friend Tyler Keith and I were looking at the incredible Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits on the website of the North Carolina Museum of Art, and we noticed, much to our shock, that their unidentified woman NCMA 67.13.6 bore a spooky resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I. We broke out my Elizabeth collection, and Tyler pointed out how the unknown woman was wearing a very similar costume to the famous procession portrait of Elizabeth I by Robert Peake. Also of note was that the jeweled emblem on Elizabeth's shoulder is awfully similar to the one worn in the unknown woman's hair. 

Also it's worth noting that Elizabeth I was very fond of white face paint. The ghost girl in North Carolina has so much white paint on her face and neck I at first suspected this might be a Jacobean masque portrait (and it might). But the real Elizabeth is wearing just as much white make-up in many of the portraits seen below.

Obviously all the Elizabeth I portraits in these comparisons are used for educational purposes, and the images all come from wikimedia.
Above: detail from Robert Peake's Procession portrait c 1600 at Sherbourne Castle (image via wikimedia) and Unknown Woman (NCMA). 

 Sieve portrait of  Elizabeth by George Gower-NPG541
The below comparison shows the ghost girl and Queen Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn. The resemblance is striking. The costume eliminates Boleyn from contention, but the family resemblance is interesting. Henry VIII's motto was "Coeur Loyal" ("true heart"). He had heart symbols embroidered onto his clothes with the word "loyal." Could the unknown sitter be wearing a family heirloom?
The next detail reveals the extremely long neck of the unknown woman. Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn had such a long neck that the NPG web site comments on it in an otherwise short description: "This painting is probably based on a contemporary portrait which no longer survives. Boleyn was described as having a long neck . . ." 

Bad things happened to that royal neck. It turns out Anne's daughter Elizabeth also had a very long neck.
 Above: unknown woman & Queen Elizabeth by Gheeraerts the Younger (Gov. Art Collection)

  Above: NCMA 67.13.6. There is a huge jpeg of the portrait available on the North Carolina Museum website. Likewise for the rest of their amazing Elizabethan and Jacobean collection.

Earlier I wrote a post in which I suggested the ghost girl (as I've been calling her) might possibly be Lucy Russell Harington, Countess of Bedford.

The Mysterious Ghost Girl Portrait in the North Carolina Museum of Art

Above:detail from NCMA.67.13.6
This is one of the strangest and most beautiful Elizabethan portraits I've come across. It's part of a masterwork collection of brilliant portraits kept in Raleigh, North Carolina. The woman bears a remarkable resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I. The portrait, and costume, seem intent on emphasizing her long neck offset with a jagged choker and a blood-red heart pendant. Combined with the thick white make-up this creates an altogether spooky effect Tim Burton would approve. Who is this ghost-girl courtier? 
Above: beautiful detail from NCMA.67.13.6
Detail: Unknown Woman NCMA left hand with cord-tied ring
Note: all comparison images in this post are used for education purposes and are available on wikimedia.

Above: detail from Robert Peake's Procession portrait c 1600 at Sherbourne Castle (image via wikimedia) and Unknown Woman (NCMA).
Expect some updates to this post.

This small collection in the North Carolina Museum of Art has some of the most beautiful Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits in the world. Their collection originated in high aristocracy, and the artists are amazing. The sitters are all power players, and it matter who they are, but it also matters who painted them, and when. 

From the North Carolina Museum of Art website: