John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners
by Unknown Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1520-1530
19 1/2 in. x 15 1/2 in. (495 mm x 394 mm)
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New attribution: Unknown Netherlandish artist
Key findings: Original dating confirmed. Surface abrasion of the paint surface has meant that it is now very difficult to make an assessment of the handling and painting style of this portrait. The attribution has been changed to Unknown Flemish artist.
Purchased in 1973. Bourchier was a soldier, statesman and scholar. He took part in the campaign against the French in 1513 and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1516 by Henry VIII. He was Lord Deputy of Calais from 1520 to 1526 and then again from 1531 to 1533. This portrait was probably painted during Bourchier's first stay in Calais, probably by a Flemish artist. It was last known in the possession of a Mrs Blackman in the 1970s.
Notes on likely authorship
The attribution to Ambrosius Benson (c.1495-1550) cannot be sustained as so little is known of his painting style and practice. The facial likeness and handling is similar to another portrait of Berners showing him in prayer, c.1521-6, held in a private collection (Hearn, 1995, p.38). Hearn argues that the sitting for the private collection portrait took place as the same time as the NPG portrait, perhaps when Berners was in Calais. The facial likeness between the two portraits is unmistakable.
The portrait has previously been associated with the Master of the Deipara Virgo of Antwerp or the Netherlandish Master of Segoria (c.1519-c.1550). Neither of these attributions appears to be sustainable. The sitter is depicted holding a piece of fruit, perhaps a quince, and it is not clear what the meaning of this iconography might have been.
Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The condition of this picture is extremely worn, particularly in the face, hindering a judgement of the painting style (see micro 02). However, the handling in areas of the picture that are least damaged (the hands and the sleeves of the costume) provides a sense of the quality, detail and subtle graduations of tone that were once part of the original picture (see micro 12).
Changes to the composition can be seen in the hat (see X-ray and Surface examination), and the position of the right side has been adjusted. The neckline of the low cut shirt has been re-painted or adjusted by the original artist.
Justification for dating
The materials used in this portrait all conform to material available in the early sixteenth century. Dendrochronology indicates that the wood derives from a tree which was felled after 1468.
Drawing and transfer technique
Only limited underdrawing was evident with infra-red reflectography. Some firmly drawn lines appear on the hands holding the fruit and in parts of the costume (see micro 07 and IRR detail 01).
Relevance to other known versions
There are no other known versions of this exact composition.
A similar version exists in a private collection in Paris, attributed to A. Benson and dated to 1521-26 (Hearn, 1995, pp.38-9). A larger version of this portrait with a banner/table in the foreground is also in a private collection. It once had the inscription 'Sir Thomas More' but this was removed at some point.
Hearn, Karen, (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate Gallery, 1995, pp.38-9
Tudor Exhibition Catalogue, The New Gallery, 1890, p.131, (No. 434)
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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.
There is widespread vertical craquelure, along the wood grain. Another network of cracking appears in the glazes in the pink costume (areas of shadow), brown fur and green background. The red glazes in the tunic have faded considerably, particularly in the mid-tones, where lead white has been mixed with the red glaze and increased the contrast between the highlights and shadows. The tunic is now pale pink with uneven areas of darker red where the glaze was more thickly applied, or it has been protected from light by old restoration.
The painting has been treated for cupping and flaking in the past. The edges of the cracks are slightly raised but stable. Significant abrasion has caused loss in detail in the face, chest and tunic. There is a marked difference between the condition of the flesh painting in the hands and face. Surface glazes and details have been lost from the face and pink garment. The green glaze in the background is severely abraded in many areas, particularly on either side of the left-hand panel join (see micro 19 where the uppermost discoloured green glaze layer has been removed on the left but remains intact on the right ). There are restored paint losses along cracks and overpaint in the top right edge. Areas of abrasion (for example on the hat and in the fingers) have been over-painted. Many small losses (caused by previous flaking paint) have been restored.
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
Damage to wood in lower left-hand corner (from reverse) - small loss of wood. Two old cracks present from top to bottom (one in each board) have been re-glued and repaired with a wood baton down the back. Small wood inset repair at top of left-hand edge (from reverse). Two small holes present in centre of lower edge.
An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.
Number of boards: 2
Last date of tree ring: 1460
The panel is constructed with one wide and one narrow vertical oak board, with a pair of strengthening strips of wood on the reverse. The boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front). The last tree ring identified (found in board A) can be dated to 1460. As no sapwood was present at the outermost edge of this board, a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggested that the tree cannot have been felled before 1468. Board A is approximately 297 mm wide which is similar to the majority of full width boards seen in panel paintings. However, applying an Eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR- usage range to board A provided a conjectural usage-date of 1468-1500 for this panel. This is a little too early for the painting's attribution and may indicate that the board has been trimmed, or that the panel has been recycled.
A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.
The x-ray shows that the right edge of the hat has been moved to the left and the shoulder line on the right has been lowered. Changes in the white neckline of the tunic are also evident where it was initially higher and closer to the neck (see x-ray mosaic 01).
The broad brushstrokes of the priming are evident, particularly noticeable at the top of the hat.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
1992 - examined using infrared reflectography at the National Gallery London .
Some underdrawing was noted around the eyes, fingers of right hand and edge of cloak. It was noted that the underdrawing is not as free or comprehensive as in de Maere's version.
2007 - examined using infrared reflectography by TSR.
The right hand holding the fruit may have been produced from a study. The underdrawing appears to have been carried out using a dry medium. Underdrawing is visible in the eyes and probably in the hands, painted over a linear design. It is also visible around the jowls. There are possible pentimenti in the fur edge on the right. X-ray and infrared reflectography show pentimenti in the hat, the edge on the right and the top, and also the shoulder line on the right.
Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.
The results of Catherine Hassall's comprehensive report in 1990 and Libby Sheldon's 2007 report are presented here, although it should be noted that Sheldon's analysis overturns some of the earlier findings.
The lowest layer over the wood panel is a thick layer of natural chalk.
A pinkish grey priming (containing lead white, vermilion and black) was identified in most paint samples.
The pale pink first layer of paint on the face and chest contains white, vermilion and traces of brown. The face has a dull, opaque pink final layer. This layer contains red lake, vermilion and some black. This was the paint layer used to cover up the earlier neckline of the tunic. A cross section from the flesh paint established that corrections to the neckline of the shirt were carried out soon after the first paint layers were applied. The correction to the neckline must therefore have been at a very early stage: between the laying in of the first and the final layers of the flesh tones. The paint layer on the finger tip shows two types of red: red lake and vermilion.
The costume and fruit
The yellow of the fruit was sampled and identified (Sheldon) as lead-tin yellow. It was also employed for detail on the lower sleeve. From the surface examination, there appeared to be an orange layer directly underneath the yellow, which could be seen in a small loss.
This has a very simple structure of thick red lake and white, painted directly over the chalk ground.
The purple coat
In contrast, the sample from the coat is much more complex, with four layers: a thin warm brown layer, followed by layers containing red, black and white. Sampling from the upper layers found that a translucent, crystalline pigment had been used, with a definite, yet pale purple hue. This was tentatively identified as fluorite by polarising light microscopy, and confirmed by energy dispersive x-ray analysis. Fluorite has not been commonly found. It has been restricted largely to areas in present day Austria (the Tyrol) and Germany. Fluorite is also found in Norway and in Castleton, Derbyshire.
The layer structure is complex. The two samples taken, one from the upper right and one from the lower left, show differences in the layer structure. There are several layers of copper green glaze above the lower layers in both samples, but the lower layers differ.
Above the priming in a sample from the upper right background Hassall noted a pale green opaque layer (verdigris, white and black), followed by a grey opaque layer composed of white and black. Above this Hassall noted three layers of green glaze. In a second sample from the lower left, background, three graded layers of copper green glaze were noted - starting with the darkest and ending with a very thin pale one. Hassall commented that this sample differs from the first in the structure of the underlayers: the priming layer is present above the ground but above this there is a similar opaque green layer composed of verdigris, white and black. However, above this, instead of a thick grey layer there is a simple layer of verdigris and white.
Sheldon re-examined the sample from the lower left background and identified the lowest layer as azurite (confirmed with polarising light microscopy). The layer of green over this azurite is a copper green glaze, thus contemporary with the period. Several layers of copper green glaze lie over this.
An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.
Painting style and method
Smooth, blended brushstrokes are visible throughout the work. Abrasion in the face, chest and tunic somewhat hinders judgement of the painting style. However, the handling of the least damaged areas (e.g. the hands and the sleeve of the costume) provides a sense of the quality and subtle graduation of tone that were once part of the original picture. The appearance of the hands and the fruit is three dimensional and almost sculptural, in contrast to the flat appearance of the face and tunic.
In some parts of the painting there is a complicated layer structure. Some changes in the composition were made during the painting process. The left side of the hat and the shoulder line on the right were changed at an early stage. The original colour of the background may have been changed, possibly at the same stage. The pink tunic neckline was also altered at an early stage.
The pale pink first layer of flesh paint, on the face and chest, contains lead white with vermilion and some brown earth. The face has a dull opaque, pink final layer (containing black and vermilion) which was used to cover up the earlier white neckline. The finger tips are painted with a bright red layer (containing red lake, vermilion and black) with a thin white paint layer over it, giving a luminous effect.
There are scattered blue pigment particles in the white of the eyes and some blue and red particles in the iris (see micro 01, micro 02 and micro 03).
The tunic is painted with a mixture of thick red lake and lead white. The red lake has faded considerably but the original strength of the colour can be seen in some areas where the paint was protected by old restoration (now removed). The white neckline of the tunic was initially higher, more rounded and closer to the neck, but was lowered after the first layer of flesh paint was applied. The final flesh paint layer was painted over the first neckline. This change is now visible due to abrasion of the upper paint layer. The final flesh paint layers and the fruit were painted after the pink tunic. This can be seen where the thinly painted edges of the hands and the fruit extend over strongly coloured red lake (see micro 14 and micro 09).
The purple sleeves were painted in several thin layers: a thin warm brown layer, purple (red lake, black, white and possibly vermilion) in areas of highlights, and in the shadows black has been applied above the purple, which has been pulled through with the brush (see micro 06). The shadows were defined by dragging dark paint over the still wet lower layer, (wet-in-wet technique), perhaps with a small comb-like tool. The upper layers contained the pale purple pigment fluorite (see Paint sampling).
Details in lower sleeves
Gold thread detail was painted with lead-tin yellow with a raised texture (see micro 11 and micro 12). Green glazes have been used for pattern detail in the cuffs. Above the green glazes, a mixture of green glaze and blue, which appears to be azurite, was applied in a second layer in some areas (see micro 17).
The fruit is painted with lead-tin yellow.
There appears to be an orange underlayer beneath the yellow.
The green background
The layer structure of the green background is complex. There are several layers of copper green glaze, some with small additions of white. In a paint sample from the lower left, the lowest layer beneath the copper green layers (and over the priming) has been identified as azurite (see Paint sampling). This suggests that perhaps the background colour might have been changed. Possibly at the same time as the outline of the hat and the shoulder on the right, at an early stage in the painting process.
Order of construction
- Chalk ground.
- Pinkish grey priming layer, made with a mixture of red, black and white / Underdrawing (It was not possible to determine whether the underdrawing lies above or below the priming layer).
- The hat and shoulder line were possibly changed at this stage, when perhaps one layer of the background had been put in (see X-Ray and Hassall's report).
In one sample from the background the lowest layer contains azurite. Three layers of copper green glaze lie over the blue layer. The status and purpose of the blue layer is uncertain. It is possible that the background was originally blue but changed to green later in the painting process, perhaps at the same time as the hat and the shoulder on the right were changed.
- Upper paint layers for the face and chest were applied.
- The tunic neckline was changed before these were applied.
- The final flesh paint layers were applied.
- The purple sleeves were painted in several layers.
- The final details were applied: the fine details of the fur, the white over red on the finger tips, the fruit with lead-tin yellow. The pattern on the cuffs was applied last with lead tin yellow and green (possibly azurite with a copper green glaze over it).
- The final layer of the background was added at the end of the painting process.
Carbon black, lead white, red lake, vermilion, copper green glaze, azurite, lead-tin yellow, fluorite
Changes in composition/pentimenti
Surface observation and x-ray show a change in the hat and shoulder on the right, both of which have been moved to the left. The position of the hat was changed at an early stage in the painting process.
The edge of the fur collar extends under the line of the chin at the left. The tunic neckline was lowered.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
The restoration along the cracks and on old flaked paint losses is visible in ultra violet. Restoration is also visible in the flesh and in the shadows of the purple sleeves (see UV 01).