John Donne

1 portrait on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

John Donne, by Unknown English artist, circa 1595 - NPG 6790 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

John Donne

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1595
30 3/8 in. x 24 5/8 in. (771 mm x 625 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, Lord Harris of Peckham, L.L. Brownrigg, the Portrait Fund, Sir Harry Djanogly, the Headley Trust, the Eva & Hans K. Rausing Trust, The Pidem Fund, Mr O. Damgaard-Nielsen, Sir David and Lady Scholey and numerous Gallery visitors and supporters, 2006
Primary Collection
NPG 6790


Click on the links below to find out more:

Share this

Sitterback to top

  • John Donne (1572-1631), Poet and divine. Sitter associated with 21 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This remarkable painting presenting Donne as a brooding poet is one of the earliest surviving examples of an Elizabethan author portrait. Donne is depicted with his head set back in the shadows, topped by a wide-brimmed hat, and his collar left untied at the neck - a fashionable literary affectation of melancholy. The Latin inscriptions translates as 'O Lady, lighten our darkness', and is a deliberate misquotation of Psalm 17, suggesting that the cause of Donne's misery is a woman, and that the picture may have been intended as a plea to a lover. The portrait was described in his will as that 'picture of myne w[hi]ch is taken in the shaddowes', and bequeathed to his friend Robert Ker,1st Earl of Ancram.

Linked publicationsback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1595back to top

Current affairs

The Nine Years War begins in Ireland. The Earl of Tyrone leads an uprising against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. He appeals to the Catholic Philip II of Spain for assistance. Spanish ships land in Cornwall sparking fears of a new Armada. They burn Penzance and Mousehole but then flee. The Jesuit poet and Catholic martyr Robert Southwell is executed for treason. His Saint Peter's Complaint and Other Poems is posthumously published.

Art and science

Sir Walter Ralegh sets out on a voyage to Guiana (now Venezuela) to find the mythic land of 'El Dorado' where there was said to be large amounts of gold. His search is unsuccessful. Sir Francis Drake sails for the West Indies. William Shakespeare writes Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream at about his time. Portrait of the poet and clergyman John Donne is painted at about this time.

International

Battle of Fontaine-Française- Henry IV of France defeats the Spanish army and the remnants of the French Catholic League under Charles, Duke of Mayenne. Sigmund Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia defeat the Ottoman army at the Guirgevo (in present-day Romania). Mehmed III succeeds Murad III as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Tell us moreback to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.

Citationclose

How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your nameclose

If you tick permission to publish your name will appear above your contribution on our website.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.