Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1575, based on a work of 1572
42 7/8 in. x 31 1/8 in. (1089 mm x 790 mm)
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New attribution: Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
Key findings: Discolouration of smalt, particularly in the Garter around the coat of arms, has affected the tonal balance of the composition.
Purchased for the Gallery by the Leggatt Brothers in 1974. The painting had been declined by the Gallery in 1929 when it was offered for purchase by Harold Hill, a dealer in rare books and prints, who bought the painting in an auction at a house in Windermere, Cumbria. It entered the collection of Mr and Mrs Eric Bullivant of Anderson Manor, Dorset and was subsequently sold at Sotheby’s on 8 May 1974 (lot 6) as ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’. The provenance before 1929 is unknown.
Walter Devereux’s arms, encircled with the Garter and with an earl’s coronet, are painted in the upper left. On St. George’s day 1572 Devereux was made a knight of the Garter, and on 4 May he was created Earl of Essex. The inscription on the right, ‘VIRTUTIS COMES INVIDIA’ translates as ‘envy is the companion of excellence’.
Notes on likely authorship and justification
The handling suggests a very competent Anglo-Netherlandish artist.
Commentary on condition, painting style and technique
The surface is worn in areas and has been considerably restored, particularly in the background and face. The painting method is straightforward and follows an orderly system and the thinly applied paint layers are softly blended.
The extensive use of smalt and red lake is notable and both pigments were used in various paint mixtures. Smalt was used in the flesh paint, the whites of the eyes, the collar and cuffs and the coat of arms. The discolouration of the smalt has altered the tonal balance of the composition and the intended impact of the substantial coat of arms has been affected by the loss of the blue colour on the Garter around the coat of arms (see detail 01).
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Dendrochronological analysis showed that the wood used for the panel can date no earlier than 1560. The date and age of the sitter is inscribed in the top right-hand corner: ‘Ao DN 1572 / AE : SUAE 32’. However, Devereux is depicted holding a marshal’s baton and he was appointed Earl Marshal of Ireland in 1576. It therefore seems likely that this portrait is a modified version of the portrait from 1572, painted circa 1576.
Drawing and transfer technique
There is detailed underdrawing in the face and the coat of arms. The face appears to have been transferred from a pattern. A number of changes were made in the coat of arms between the drawing and the painting stage.
Relevance to other known versions
A number of versions of this portrait exist, all of which bear the date 1572 in the inscription. Versions that do not include the Earl Marshal’s baton:
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Ipswich Museums (on display at Christchurch Mansion) Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, R.1948-248
Versions with the Earl Marshal’s baton:
- Christie’s 15 April 1988 (lot 99) attributed to William Segar
- Ulster Museum, BELUM.U4755
Other versions without the dated inscription or the Earl Marshal’s baton:
- version bought by D. Rossi at Sotheby’s on 29 January 1964 (lot 1). Previously in the collection of Earl Amherst.
- version bought by J. Gold at Sotheby’s on 26 July 1967 (lot 172). Previously in the collection of Lord Bagot, Blythfield Hall, Staffordshire. Appeared again at Christie’s on 26 June 1981 from Terence Bennion’s Collection.
Sotheby’s, Catalogue of Fine Old Master Paintings, 8 May 1974 (lot 6)
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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.
A substantial cradle, composed of seven vertical and ten horizontal members, is present on the reverse of the panel. The panel appears structurally sound and the paint surface is stable. The surface is worn in areas and has been considerably restored. The Garter, crown, hair and black costume have been abraded to the greatest degree. The varnish is clear and even. In 1974, the conservation treatment found that the right-hand board had previously been separated and re-glued. Hargrave notes that the boards were not aligned correctly, meaning the discrepancy in the composition had to be resolved with restoration and the restoration in this area is evident. Minor blistering was noted in an area of old fill and restoration along the upper 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: 3
Last date of tree ring: 1540
The panel is constructed of three boards, which for the purposed of analysis were labelled A to C from the left (from the front). The boards have a grain that is skewed within the panel (top left to bottom right for boards A and C, and top right to bottom left for board B), which suggests that they were sawn from a tapering trunk. The boards were quite fast grown; however, each contained sufficient rings for analysis. The absence of sapwood means that a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. The ring sequences of the three boards were compared, and a strong match was identified between boards A and B, indicating that they are likely to derive from the same tree. There were no matches between them and board C, which is likely to be from another part of the same tree. The composite constructed from boards A and B, and the board C sequence were found to match against English reference data from the West Midlands area. The dates of the last measured rings identified were 1537 for board A and 1540 from board B. Adding the minimum number of expected sapwood rings (+10 for English oak), results in the earliest possible felling dates of 1557 for board A and 1560 for board B. The panel can therefore be no earlier than 1560. This dating corroborates the date given in the inscription (1572).
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.
X-ray shows the uneven wood grain typical of English oak boards, with variation in the width of the growth rings. The x-ray is dominated by the cradle members. X-ray shows where details are no longer aligned along the edge of the right-side join, along the left edge of the right hand board (see x-ray mosaic 01). About 5 cm has been removed at the edge, probably at the time the cradle was applied. The lettering in the upper right is no longer aligned and the barbe at the top and bottom edges are also misaligned.
The broad brushstrokes of the priming layer can be seen. The background was applied with a softer, shorter brush. The decorative detail, with lead-based paint, applied with a fine brush, is very clear in x-ray. The feathers at the lower right are evidently painted wet-in-wet. The paint layers on the face are thinly applied and softly blended. The paint losses along the top edge can be see in x-ray.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Infrared reflectography shows carbon black underdrawing in the face, ruff, coat of arms and the hand on the left (see IRR mosaic 01). The underdrawing in the face has the appearance of being transferred from a pattern, and reinforced with wet medium. The eyes appear damaged and overpainted, although it is likely that they were underdrawn. Infrared reflectography shows a considerable amount of detailed underdrawing in the coat of arms. This shows that a number of changes to the design were made between the drawing and painting stages. Whether these changes occurred as a result of an initial mistake made by the artist, or whether the status of the sitter changed during the painting process is unclear.
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.
Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in December 2009.
Sample 4 showed the full layer structure of the painting. The preparation layers consists of a thick chalk ground, followed by a pale priming containing lead white, with traces of black and red lead. As the majority of samples were taken from the very edge of the panel, most did not show the priming layer.
Flesh and eyes
A brush hair was observed in the flesh paint in the sitter's right hand. The flesh is composed of a mixture of lead white, vermilion, black, azurite, red lake pigments and possibly some smalt. A higher proportion of black and red lake were used in areas of shadow, although the proportion of blue used does not appear to vary. The white of the eyes contains both azurite and smalt with lead white and the pupils were painted with dark brown, which may be an umber and red lake mixture.
The gold ornamentation on the sitter's armour was painted using a mixture of lead-tin yellow and vermilion, to achieve a warm, peachy colour. A pure, pale lead-tin yellow was then used for highlights. The red hose were first built up using an opaque dull red, composed of red ochre and black. This was followed by a brighter red layer containing white and red earth, with modifying glazes on top (see sample 3). The red around the cuff was painted in the same manner, although the red pigment used in the upper layer appears to be vermilion. Large particles of smalt are mixed into the white of the collar ruff and cuffs.
The black of the costume seems to be a very finely ground burnt plant black, with some larger angular particles (possibly fruit-stone black). There is a translucent brown substance in the mixture, which may be an organic lake or organic brown, such as Cassel earth. In addition, a white transparent substance, with a low refractive index, was found; this may be a silicacious filler.
Traces of gilding are visible on top of a mordant, and smalt and red lake were identified in the outer ring containing the motto. The degraded smalt layer present here has a grey/brown appearance.
The Garter surrounding the coat of arms has a considerable amount of restoration. There is also evidence of a red lake and smalt layer, as in the Garter medal. The coat of arms contains vermilion, red lake and lead-tin yellow pigments. The green behind the lion rampant is composed of a mixture of azurite and lead-tin yellow. Tiny brushstrokes of red lake modelling were also identified on the lion, which are hardly visible to the naked eye.
The tablecloth was first underpainted using a warm grey. The opaque green upper paint layer is composed of a mixture of azurite and lead-tin yellow, with a high proportion of lead white and traces of red. In dispersion smalt was also identified, as well as yellow ochre.
The lighter background colour is composed of a mixture of earth browns, lead white, black and a small amount of red. This created a warm brown. The rich shadow in the background surrounding the crest contains very large translucent particles of red lake mixed with black. This was identified as madder lake using ultra violet light examination.
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
The painting method is straightforward and was executed in a well-planned order. The extensive use of smalt and red lake is notable and both pigments are used in various paint mixtures. Smalt was used in the flesh paint, the whites of the eyes, the collar and cuffs, in the coat of arms and the Garter around it, and on the Garter medal. Red lake was used in the hose, the lining of the armour, the coat of arms and Garter medal and in the paint mixture in the background. The discolouration of smalt has altered the tonal balance of the composition. The loss of the blue colour on the Garter around the coat of arms has affected the intended impact of the substantial coat of arms.
There is a thick chalk ground, followed by a warm, pale grey priming layer. The priming contains lead white and traces of black and red lead particles. Underdrawing is visible beneath the surface of the paint in many areas (see Infrared reflectography).
The paint mixtures contain large pigment particles, including particularly large white particles. Smalt was used in several of the paint mixtures.
The flesh paint contains large particles of lead white and vermilion, with some azurite, black, and red lake particles. Some smalt may also be present. The thinly applied paint layers are softly blended. The mouth is painted with thin brushstrokes, with some dragging wet-in-wet.
The whites of the eyes contain azurite and some smalt (see micro 01). The pupils were painted with a dark brown which may be a mixture of umber and red lake.
The paint in the hands contains a mixture of large white particles, a lot of smalt and some vermilion. The final layers on the fingertips extend over the decorative gold on the armour and were evidently painted after the armour (see micro 09 and micro 11).
Hair, beard and moustache
The hair, beard and moustache are painted softly with a fine brush (see micro 03 and micro 19).
Collar and cuffs
The collar and cuffs were painted with a high proportion of smalt, mixed with black and white. Smalt was found in both the pale grey passages, as well as the darker grey spots in these areas (see micro 04 and micro 05). The cuffs were painted in before the rest of the costume was applied, with final white details added above (see micro 08 and micro 12).
Armour, helmet, gloves and costume
The decorative gold sections and the buckles on the black armour are painted with mixtures containing lead-tin yellow and vermilion, also with pure lead-tin yellow (see micro 13 and micro 15). The red velvet lining of the armour and the gloves, the hose, and the costume beneath the armour, which is visible at the collar and cuffs, are painted with an opaque red earth with a strong red lake glaze over it. Examination in ultra violet light indicates that this is madder lake. The straps and belt on the armour are painted in the same way. The gold decoration was painted with a small brush and applied quite thickly with a raised texture. The feathers on the helmet are painted wet-in-wet, more thinly and with a wider brush (see micro 07).
The black of the costume seems to consist of very finely ground black with some larger, angular particles (see Paint sampling). This does not seem to be lamp black but a burnt plant black, possibly fruit-stone black, and there is a translucent brown in the mixture which may be an organic brown lake such as Cassel earth.
Coat of arms and Garter medal
There is a great deal of discoloured smalt on the coat of arms. The Garter around the coat of arms is painted with smalt, red lake, white and black (see micro 06). The smalt has discoloured considerably. The paint mixture of the pearls on the coronet contains smalt. The border strap on the Garter medal, hanging on the chest, contains smalt which has discoloured. The composition of St. George and the dragon appears to have been painted with earth pigments, lead-tin yellow and red (probably vermilion) (see micro 14). Details on the coat of arms were finely executed (see micro 17 and micro18).
The tablecloth was painted after the costume, at the end of the painting process (see micro 10). The green paint mixture contains azurite, lead white, lead-tin yellow, a little red earth, smalt and yellow ochre. The lower edge of the tablecloth is misaligned at the edge of the right-hand join where panel has been rejoined and trimmed.
In the lighter passages of background on the right, the paint is composed of a mixture of lead white, earth browns, black and a small proportion of red (probably vermilion). In the grey shadow at the left, the paint contains large particles of madder lake, with black, lead white and earth pigments. There appears to be graded shadow and a long strap hanging down from behind the coat of arms.
The lettering is misaligned at the left edge of the right-side join, where the edge was trimmed when the panel was rejoined. This has been corrected with restoration, but is clearly visible in x-ray. The letters are painted with lead-tin yellow (see micro 20).
Order of construction
- First flesh paint layers
- Grey layers of collar and cuffs
- First layers for the hair and beard, then fine detail of dark hairs with a small fine brush
- Armour and costume
- Final white detail on collar and cuffs
- Final layers on fingertips applied after the armour was painted
Burnt plant black (possibly fruit-stone black), lead white, lead-tin yellow, smalt, azurite, red lake (madder), vermilion, red lead, earth pigments, yellow ochre, possibly Cassel earth, organic borwn
Changes in composition/pentimenti
The design on the coat of arms has changed between the underdrawing and painting stages (see Infrared reflectography).
A considerable amount of restoration has been observed, particularly in the background and face.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Residues of natural resin varnish remain on the paint surface. The lower part of the gold decoration down the front of the armour is covered with a thick dense layer where the varnish has not been removed and which obscures the decoration when viewed in ultra violet light (see UV 01). Restoration can be seen down the joins and the two splits running down from the top edge. There are other scattered areas of restoration on the Garter strap round the coat of arms, in parts of the background and along the top of the shoulder on the left. The three left letters in the two top lines of the inscription are damaged and have been strengthened with restoration. There is a line of strengthening down the dark edge of shadow to the right of the coat of arms. The red feather on the helmet fluoresces with a pink/orange tone which indicates the presence of madder. There is also a slightly pink/orange tone in the Garter strap round the coat of arms. The smalt has discoloured but the pinkish tone suggests that madder lake is mixed with the smalt.