Friday, January 3, 2020

My Upcoming Novel THE LAST TAXI DRIVER Gets Hyped in the Washington Post

Lots more good news to report about my upcoming novel THE LAST TAXI DRIVER from Tin House Books. It got selected as an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers. Thank you to everyone at SIBA and especially Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA (FYI the Chamber of Commerce's 2018  Small Business of the Year in Athens). And today the novel got written up in the Washington Post Book Club with kind words from the awesome people at Square Books in Oxford, MS. Thank you everyone at Square Books (Cody, Richard, Lisa, Bill, Slade, etc) but especially Lyn Roberts. 

From the Washington Post 1/3/20:
Also happy to announce I will be reading at Off Square Books in Oxford on Feb. 26th, which technically speaking is five days before the novel is scheduled to drop. And I'm also excited to be reading at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson on March 03. That is, if our planet is still habitable then. Because let's face it the news in today's Washington Post was otherwise grim beyond belief. 
Please consider pre-ordering my novel from your local indie bookseller via the following links: Square Books, Lemuria Books. And here's the link to order from Avid Bookshop.

Hell, I'm still excited about the starred Review last week in Kirkus. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Most Curious Elizabethan Portraits of 2019: a Lost Privateer, a Debunked Bard, & a Ghost Girl with the Longest Neck in the World

Above: detail from unknown woman NCMA.67.13.6
This year's choice for most curious portrait was a no-brainer. The most curious portrait I've come across all year, and maybe ever, is the portrait of the long-necked Elizabethan (or Jacobean) ghost girl who bears a spooky resemblance to the famously long-necked and beheaded Anne Boleyn. I simply have no idea what to make of this portrait, which resides inside a small but spectacular collection of mysteriously unidentified Elizabethan portraits in the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Click here to read more about the Ghost Girl portrait. 

Our top five most curious portraits of 2019 are listed at the bottom of the post. Also our most popular post of 2019 is listed.

Below: details from the Ghost Girl portrait NCMA.67.13.6

Click here to read more about the Ghost Girl portrait.

Honorable mentions: four very curious portraits of 2019:

1. Does the Lost Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney by the Italian Master Veronese Now Reside in North Carolina? 

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

3. Definitely Not Shakespeare: the Famous Hampton Court Portrait Debunked & Crowned King of Sweden

4. Does North Carolina Own the Most Beautiful Portrait of Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke in the World?

And, finally, our most popular post of 2019 goes to:

How To Date Elizabethan Portraits By Costume: Men's Portraits

Thanks to everyone for reading. Have a great 2020!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Definitely Not Shakespeare: the Famous Hampton Court Portrait Debunked & Crowned King of Sweden

Above: Gustav II Adolf by unknown artist date unknown (left, Gripsholm Castle) & the Hampton Court portrait (Royal Collection, right).

I've always rooted for the Hampton Court portrait of Shakespeare to be legit because I like how boisterous and affable the sitter appears. A decade ago I even talked the Royal Collection into (re)x-raying their picture. But the truth is always a step forward, and I feel confident now in stating that the Hampton Court portrait does not depict William Shakespeare. 

Acquired in 1834 as a portrait of Shakespeare from Penshurst Palace by the "sailor king" William IV, the Hampton Court picture was tested in 1937 with both x-ray and infra-red light by the photographic expert Charles Wisner Barrell, who later reported in the pages of Scientific American magazine that his IR reflectogram had detected a second collar, likely Elizabethan, hidden beneath the Jacobean fall collar visible on the portrait. (These spectral results disappeared after Barrell's death.) Barrell cited the hidden collar alongside a theory about an obscured sword as evidence that the portrait had originally depicted Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. 

Barrell was wrong. That this portrait does not depict de Vere, or Shakespeare, or both, should be self-evident to anyone who studies these side-by-side comparisons with Gustav II Adolf, the king of Sweden from 1611 to 1632. In almost all his portraits, Gustav "the Great" proudly displays his royally protruding belly. Gustav's portraits typically show him belted above the belly, or directly over the belly, thereby making portraits of him a bit easier to identify.
Above: Gustav II Adolf, c.1630 by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas (Skokloster Castle, left) & the Hampton Court Portrait of Shakespeare (Royal Collection, London, right). Note how the belt buckles, though of different sizes, are identical in shape.
Even if you disagree about Gustav II being the sitter of the Hampton Court picture, the many portraits of Gustav supply strong evidence that the Hampton Court costume is neither Elizabethan nor Jacobean. The costume isn't even English. The displayed belly of the Hampton Court lends the illusion of a mid 1590s English-style portrait when bombast stuffing was exposed via an unbuttoned peascod-bellied doublet. But this is not a peascod doublet in the Hampton Court picture; instead the sitter is likely wearing is a farthingale-type padding that lends the illusion almost of pregnancy.
Above: Gustav II flaunting the same style vented sleeves present in the Hampton Court Portrait. These sleeves could be unbuttoned to hang behind the back. (Gustav II Adolf, 1594-1632, kung av Sverige - Nationalmuseum - 39108, photo via Wikicommons). Also compare the rapier pommel to that on the Hampton Court portrait.
In the a 1590s English sitters liked to strike a pose of melancholy by unbuttoning their doublets or unlacing their collars, but, again, this is not such a portrait. Therefore in my opinion we have to say goodbye to the affable Hampton Court Shakespeare after all these centuries of controversy.

Above: Henry Percy, the "Wizard earl," with bombast bared in pose meant to convey melancholy. Painted by Nicholas Hilliard. Image via wikicommons.
Above: the bombastic satirist Thomas Nashe shackled by bilboes with doublet undone and bombast displayed c. 1595. Image via wikicommons.
I've written to Sweden's National Armory to see if they can identify either the dagger or rapier depicted in the Hampton Court portrait, but even without that confirmation I feel confident in debunking the Hampton Court as a picture of Shakespeare.
Above: Gustavus II by Jacob Hoefnagel 1624 (Google Arts Project, left) & the Hampton Court (RC, London, right)

Above: Awesome portrait of Gustav II by Matthaeus Merian the Elder 1631-02 (Google Arts Project, left) & Hampton Court (Royal Collection, right). The portrait on the left was likely painted about four years after the Hampton Court portrait (if we accept the inscribed age of 34 as valid). Note the similar sword hilts and pommels.

Above: Gustav II Adolph date artist and date unknown (Gripsholm Castle, National Museum Sweden) & the Hampton Court portrait (Royal Collection, right)
Above: Gustav II Adolph date and artist unknown (Nationalmuseum, Gripsholm Castle) & the Hampton Court portrait (Royal Collection, right). 
Anyone needing more evidence should follow this link to a wikipedia collection of still-existing costumes once owned by Gustav II, almost all of which reveal the same style jerkin or doublet with longish tapering skirts that come together to form an arrowhead pointing directly to where, decades earlier, you would have found a codpiece. Gustav was also frequently portraited wearing vented sleeves of the type known as hanging sleeves (not to be confused with sham sleeves); this is the same style sleeve found in the Hampton Court picture.

 Below: Costumes of Gustav II displayed in the National Armory in Stockholm. The doublet immediately below is displayed one of the king's rapiers very much resembling the rapier in the Hampton Court picture.
Above: The Hampton Court portrait (Royal Collection, London) displayed beside still existing costumes of Gustav II
Anyone interested in Gustav the Great can follow this link to a page featuring an illustrated description of his life. A king who inherited three wars, all of which he fought brilliantly (he's considered one of the greatest military leaders of all time), Gustav is also credited with bringing Sweden into the modern age. He died on the battlefield while leading a charge uphill in the Thirty Days War. If the inscribed age of 34 is correct on the Hampton Court portrait, then it depicts Gustav c. 1628

So here's to Sweden's Gustav the Great. Though we have lost a poet, we have gained a monarch.

All photographs in this post are used for educational purposes

Below: my favorite portrait of the proudly big-bellied Gustav II Adolf by unknown artist date unknown (Gripsholm Castle)

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Does the Lost Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney by the Italian Master Veronese Now Reside in North Carolina?

British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate, ca. 1585–90. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, 1967 (NCMA 67.13.8)

British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate, ca. 1585–90. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, 1967 (NCMA 67.13.8)

British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate, ca. 1585–90. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, 1967 (NCMA 67.13.8)

British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate, ca. 1585–90. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, 1967 (NCMA 67.13.8)

 Above: North Carolina Museum of Art, British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate (NCMA 67.13.8). The museum states that the inscription was a later addition to the portrait and is incorrect.

British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate, ca. 1585–90. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, 1967 (NCMA 67.13.8)

British School, Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Breastplate, ca. 1585–90. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James MacLamroc, 1967 (NCMA 67.13.8)

In 1574 Sir Philip Sidney had his portrait painted by the Italian master Paolo Veronese. The picture was then shipped to Sidney's mentor the diplomat Hubert Languet in Antwerp. Languet was infatuated with Sidney and had pleaded for such a portrait. Upon receiving the portrait, Languet wrote to the nineteen-year-old Sidney and observed, "The features are very well depicted, it looks far more youthful than it should be. You probably looked like this at twelve or thirteen." Languet also mentioned that his friend "Master Vulcobius is so struck by its elegance that he is looking for an artist to copy it. The painter has represented you sad and thoughtful."

It's also interesting that Languet initially objected that the portrait didn't resemble Philip. "Rather than representing you, it seems to be someone resembling you; at first I thought it was your brother." It took a year before Languet grew to love the portrait and wrote Sidney to apologize at how he had "thought little of the portrait you gave me, and barely gave you thanks for such a beautiful present."

The above information is recorded in Alan Stewart's excellent biography Philip Sidney: A Double Life. Stewart suggests it was this Veronese portrait of Sidney that the diplomat Daniel Rogers fawned over after having visited Languet in 1577. Rogers gushed that "the Divine Youth" Sidney had been painted in a "unique manner" and noted how the painter had "spread this rosy charm lightly over your face." Rogers also notes the "soft down" over the cheeks, the "enlivened forehead," and the eyes "with radiant beams."   
Above: the unknown youth (left) and a portrait at Penshurst Place in Kent said to be by Mark Gerrard (very likely Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger) depicting Sir Philip Sidney and his younger brother Robert. Below: close up of the unknown youth (left) and young Sir Philip Sidney.

The Youth in the North Carolina portrait is certainly "a divine youth," decked out, spear in hand, as a young Mars. Interestingly, the engraving on his breast plate appears to represent Mercury as its sitter is wearing a feathered helmet and clasping a caduceus. Roger's earlier description of the painter spreading his rosy charms across the face might hint to the sunburn showing on the cheeks of the unknown youth.  

Stewart also records John Aubrey's description of Sidney as having hair more amber than red. "If I were to find fault in it," Aubrey commented about Sidney's face, "methinks 'tis not masculine enough."

above: (left) unknown NC youth; (right) portrait miniature Called Sir Philip Sidney (Victoria & Albert Museum painted by Isaac Oliver or After Oliver)
 Above: unknown youth (NCMA, left) and Sir Philip Sidney by de Passe 1620 (NPG, right)

In his book, Stewart laments that the Veronese portrait of Sidney was later lost but also records how Roger Kuin of York University spent some time trying to find the portrait. "Kuin argues the picture may have been bought at auction by another of Languet's proteges, Philippe Du Plessis-Mornay, who was living on the same street in Antwerp at the time. This would explain the presence of a portrait of "M. Synei" in the gallery of Du Plessis' chateau at Saumur in 1619." 

But the trail didn't end there. The Ashgate Research Companion to The Sidneys, volume I, states that, according to Elizabeth Goldring (author of a wonderful new book on Nicholas Hilliard) the picture ended up in the Leicester House on the Strand, where in 1582 it was inventoried as a portrait of Sidney "when he was a boye."

Above: The Unknown Youth in Carolina (left) and the only establish painted portrait of Sir Philip Sidney (NPG 2096, date unknown, artist unknown, right)
Above: unknown youth (left) and portrait of Sidney c. 1600 English school kept at Knole National Trust in Kent. Note similarity of the ties, resting on the shoulders in both portraits, used to secure the armor.
All of which brings me to the portrait of an unknown English courtier by an unknown but extremely talented painter kept in the British Collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art that certainly matches all the above descriptions of the lost Sidney portrait painted by Veronese (or its copy). I will leave it to the experts to decide if the portrait was painted in the style of the Italian master. The North Carolina portrait bears an inscription, but the museum acknowledges it was added much later and is known to be incorrect. 

The unknown sitter in North Carolina bears an uncanny resemblance to a portrait miniature by Isaac Oliver said to be of Sidney that was once owned by JP Morgan (it ended up in the Berger Collection and was sold at auction in 2017). The two young men certainly could be the same sitter, although the rosy sunburned cheeks of Italy are absent in Oliver's English miniature. I will also point out that there appears to be another collar visible beneath the transparent figure-eight collar in the miniature. I'm not sure what to make of that. Usually such crumpled figure-eights were fashionable in the 1590's, but this seems something altogether different and unique. Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh were the two greatest fashion fantasticos in England.
Above: Unknown Youth in North Carolina (left) and Possible Sir Philip Sidney, date unknown, by Isaac Oliver in the Berger Collection (Denver Museum, right)

The breast plate the young man is wearing in the North Carolina portrait appears to depict Mercury. The missing Italian portrait of Sidney did not have an inscription on it, or so we can assume from a letter sent by Sidney to Languet stating as much. And, as stated earlier, the inscription currently on the portrait of the unknown youth was added later and is incorrect. Originally it did not have any inscription.

The North Carolina Museum of Art has a number of sitters in its British Collection who greatly resemble Elizabethan nobles or power players. All of these sitters remain unidentified, as do the incredibly talented painters, but one portrait in particular in that collection bears an amazing resemblance to Mary Sidney Herbert, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney. Considering the artistic skills brought to bear on these pictures, it's not unreasonable to suspect they might be connected back in time to Penshurst Palace or Leicester House. 

Above: Unknown Woman (North Carolina Museum of Art, left) & Mary Sidney Herbert (NPG, right)
Below: notice on the website of the North Carolina Museum of Art

So, with all that in mind, I'll leave it to the professionals to look into this mystery. I'll also let them date the costume of the North Carolina youth--the fashion in Italy was years ahead of England and therefore I don't feel qualified to date the portrait, although the unknown young man is wearing some awesome Italian cutwork on his collar and cuffs. The Bishop-style sleeves, filled with bombast from shoulder to wrist, came into style c. 1575 in England, and Veronese's portrait was painted in 1574. The peascod-bellied doublet was also coming into style c. 1575. As to the collar, such falling bands were always in style. The hose, or loose fitting canions, seem more Italian than English, I think. 

I wish I could spent the next month investigating this portrait. I've got two books coming out soon and don't have much time.
Above: breast plate adjusted on Photoshop. The figure wearing a feathered cap and holding a caduceus would seem to be the god Mercury; however it's unusual to depict Mercury as riding a horse. The unknown sitter in the North Carolina portrait is posing, we can assume, as Mars--or at least the spear he is holding would indicate as much.
Above: helmet with dragons--perhaps an allusion to St. George? Also note the red-jeweled doodad pinned to a brown glove behind the helmet.
Related posts: 

Does North Carolina Own the Most Beautiful Portrait of Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke in the World?

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

THE LAST TAXI DRIVER Gets Starred Kirkus Review

It's been almost 20 years since I've published a novel (RIDES OF THE MIDWAY w/ WW Norton) so, as you can imagine, I am very pleased to report that my upcoming novel THE LAST TAXI DRIVER (Tin House Press, March 03, 2020) has received a starred Kirkus review that compares it to three of my favorite writers--Denis Johnson, Charles Portis, and, maybe best of all, Dashiell Hammett--and describes the plot this way, " . . . a remarkable one-day picaresque as we follow Lou on a marathon shift through a blasted landscape that's part Denis Johnson carnival of the wrecked, part Nietzschean Twilight of the Gods (or Twilight of the Taxi Cabs) . . . a dark pleasure."
Also thrilled that, just last week, we sold the foreign-language rights to Groupe Flammarion in France, and, just today, we received our first offer in Italy. THE LAST TAXI DRIVER can be pre-ordered via the following links: Square Books, Lemuria Books, Barnes & Noble, & Amazon.

above: I'm awaiting a reply from this email before I contact Guinness Book of World Records
As if that wasn't enough good news, the finalized cover of the novel also arrived this week from the great people at Tin House Press. The cover faithfully reproduces in silhouette two of the three air fresheners that used to dangle from the rearview of my taxicab. The Shakespeare-mint one didn't make the cut. Sorry, Will.
Equally excited that 2021 will see the publication of my memoir STALKING SHAKESPEARE (Scribner) which chronicles my obsession with finding lost portraits of Will Shakespeare and getting those overpainted portraits tested via x-ray and infrared light. 

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