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

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