Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
1 portrait on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1575
42 1/2 in. x 32 1/2 in. (1080 mm x 826 mm)
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New attribution: Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
Key findings: The panel shows evidence of having been cut down and the portrait may originally have been full length.
Purchased for the Gallery from Messrs. Graves in 1877 after it had been sold at Christies 21 April (lot 70) that same year. Previously owned by the art collector Robert Vernon, who died in 1849, of Ardington, Berks, and Pall Mall.
The Earl of Leicesters arms, encircled with the Garter and with an earls coronet, are painted in the upper left. It has been suggested that this may be the portrait of the earl in a sute of russet satten and velvet welted which was listed as a full-length portrait in an inventory of Leicesters pictures at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, c. 1578 (Goldring, 2005, p. 657). Analysis of the support showed that the painting has been trimmed on all the edges; however, it is impossible to know how much has been removed.
Notes on likely authorship and justification
The handling indicates that the painting is by a skilled Anglo-Netherlandish artist. No other portraits have been identified that are definitely by the same hand.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The paint handling and technique is of a very high quality, with very skilful and subtle use of opaque and transparent glazes. There is a slight misalignment in the costume detail down the panel joins where the board edges were trimmed when they were repaired and rejoined. The top, bottom and right edges of the panel are uneven where they have been trimmed a little.
A dense area can be seen around the head in x-ray where a lead-based underlayer was applied locally to give greater luminosity to the thinly applied flesh paint over it. The quality of the red costume fabrics is described with notable skill; the fabric of the doublet and sleeves has a fine sheen and is evidently intended to be silk or satin, whilst the fabric of the hose is fairly stiff and appears to be velvet. This was achieved through the application of translucent layers of red lake which vary in thickness and tone in order to define areas of highlight and shadow. In the hose, the red lake glaze was blotted off with a cloth or fingers in order to imitate the texture of rich velvet.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Dendrochronological analysis revealed that the wood used to make one of the boards came from a tree felled after 1568, which supports a mid-1570s date for the portrait.
Drawing and transfer technique
There is underdrawing in many parts of the composition. This is clearly visible in normal light, particularly in the face where the entire drawn pattern can be seen because the flesh paint has become more transparent with time and has also been abraded. The underdrawing in the face was evidently transferred from a pattern whilst the hands were drawn freehand.
Relevance to other known versions
A considerable number of portraits of Leicester exist. However, the only other version of this portrait to survive is later and was recorded in a private collection in Munich, Germany in 1972.
Goldring, Elizabeth, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester for Kenilworth Castle, The Burlington Magazine, 147, 2005, pp.654-60
Goldring, Elizabeth, Portraiture, Patronage and the Progresses: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the Kenilworth Festivities of 1575, in The Progresses, Pageants and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I, edited by Jayne Archer, Elizabeth Goldring and Sarah Knight, 2007, pp.163-88
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p.192-6
Christies, Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of ancient and Modern pictures and historical portraits of the eminent amateur the late Robert Vernon Esq, 21 April 1877 (lot 70)
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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.
The painting has a history of flaking and tenting, particularly in the background and curtain. The painting has suffered loss and abrasion in these areas and elsewhere. The face does not have the pronounced craquelure seen elsewhere. Only a few damages can be seen in the face, the largest being at the left side of the forehead. The transparency of the paint film is likely to have increased with time, making the underdrawing appear more visible than was originally intended, although the face is also worn as a result of past overcleaning. The hand on the left is badly damaged, with cracks and abrasion visible. The panel has suffered from woodworm damage, partly due to the presence of sapwood. The edges have been thinned to create non-original bevels, exposing woodworm channels in a number of areas. The dimensions of the panel appear to have been reduced, creating rough cut edges on the upper and lower ends in particular. It is possible that the panel has been significantly trimmed along the lower edge, reducing it from a full-length to three-quarter-length portrait. The panel joins have been shaved during past treatment and insufficient care was taken when they were rejoined, resulting in misalignment of the composition. At present, the panel and paint surface appear structurally sound, with no apparent movement in the two joins. The varnish is adequate, although there is evidence of blooming in areas.
Number of boards: 3
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel has clearly suffered from woodworm damage in the past. The bevels appear to be original, but the edges might have been thinned to create non-original bevels, exposing woodworm channels in a number of areas. Evidence of woodworm damage is most prominently visible in the upper-left corner (from the back), down the join of the right-hand and central boards, and in the lower portion of the central board. The panel boards have been separated and rejoined, and the edges have been trimmed. This has caused some misalignment in the paint surface when the boards were rejoined. Non-original rectangular wooden buttons have been adhered to the reverse along both joins, and thin inserts have been attached to the reverse along the left hand join (from the back), as a repair. The panel appears to have been trimmed, creating rough edges on the upper and lower ends in particular, and the edge of the right-hand board is also uneven but was not cut roughly. It is possible that the panel has been significantly trimmed along the lower edge, reducing it from a full to three-quarter-length portrait.
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: 1560
The three boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front) for the purpose of analysis. All boards contain sufficient rings for analysis. Sapwood is present on the inner lower edge of board C which means that a felling date range can be applied to the panel. Boards B and C were found to derive from the same tree. The latest rings identified were 1560 from Board A and 1555 from Board C. Adding the appropriate minimum and maximum number of sapwood rings suggests that the two trees were felled after 1568, and between 1563 and 1579.
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 straight wood grain can be seen in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). It is evident that the upper, lower and right-side edges of the panel have been trimmed, leaving the edges uneven, especially the top and bottom edges. There are paint losses along the top and bottom which must have occurred when these edges were cut. The panel joins have been rejoined and it is obvious in x-ray that the edges of the boards were trimmed before being rejoined. Woodworm damage can be seen along the edges and it is likely that some damaged sapwood was trimmed off along the joins. This has caused some misalignment in the edge of the doublet on the right, the sword strap and in some lines of the embroidery in the costume. Some of the upper edge of the hand on the right is missing where it has been trimmed at the edge of the cuff. Paint losses can be seen along the top and bottom edges and down the joins; there are particularly large losses at the bottom of the left-side join, which are probably associated with woodworm damage in the panel. There are also small losses and wear in the hand on the left. The wooden buttons and inset repairs on the back can be seen in x-ray.
The broad brushstrokes of the priming layer are very clear. There is a dense area around the head where a lead-based underlayer was applied locally over the priming in order to give greater luminosity to the flesh paint layers. Incised lines can be seen in the background, below the coat of arms, which were evidently made when deciding on the final position of the circle of the Garter, probably using a compass. The final position also seems to have been drawn with incised lines. Craquelure lines can be seen around the knob at the top of the sword hilt and on the knob on the end of the chair arm, where the paint has dipped into the incised lines. There may be incised lines around the metal knob on the chair arm.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Infrared reflectography shows extensive carbon-based underdrawing in the face, ear, hair, moustache and beard (see IRR mosaic 01). It is clear that the underdrawing was transferred from a pattern, most likely by tracing, and then reinforced with wet medium and a brush in sharp hatched strokes. The tracing was elaborated by adding short freehand lines to define areas of shadow and detail. These show through the thinly applied and worn flesh paint. The ruff was also loosely underdrawn freehand after the initial tracing was made. The hands were not drawn from a tracing, but were loosely defined with fine freehand lines, adjusting the position of the fingers and wrist on the left. A number of curved, vertical underdrawn lines can be seen through the hand on the right. These appear to loosely correspond to the position of the folds in the sitter's hose, and therefore suggest that the costume was also faintly underdrawn to some extent.
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.
The panel was prepared with a thick chalk ground, followed by a thin lead white priming.
Sample 7: A dispersion of underdrawing material was taken from an area adjacent to the eye on the left. In reflected light the underdrawing material has a metallic appearance, but in polarised light it has a metallic brownish reflectance. The dispersion was compared with control samples of blacks, and was found to closely match graphite, which also has the same metallic brownish reflection. However, this result was produced by visual comparison, and to produce an accurate result it will be necessary to use scientific analysis with Rahmen.
Sample 1: In order to obtain a sample from the red costume at the lower edge, it was necessary to sample through overpaint on the surface. The dull red overpaint in this area seemed to be red ochre and black, and appeared to cover an original glaze. However, in cross-section only a reddish brown layer was found beneath the overpaint. Below that was also a buff-coloured layer and a dark grey at the lowest level of paint. It is probable that the lowest layer is an original modelling layer for the costume or background, but the upper layers might be later paint. The sample showed a thick chalk ground and thin lead white priming. The paint layers above consist of three layers. The lowest grey layer is a mixture of red and black. The middle layer, between the upper and lower greyish browns, is a smooth pale brown or beige. The upper overpaint layer consists of a complex mixture of red lake, red ochre and black, with occasional particles of greenish blue and yellow.
A dispersion of the red paint was examined. Pigments identified include black, red ochre, red lake, yellow lake and occasional traces of copper blue/green.
Sample 5: Crimson lake from the cuff on the sitter's right sleeve was sampled. This identified crimson lake with plant black and a few particles of white. In reflected light, particles of vermilion were also observed.
Sample 6: A dispersion was taken of the yellow/brown paint within the garter strap. This identified the pigment here as smalt, which has now lost its colour.
Paint samples show that the background was painted green in all parts. This includes the background drapery, the dark background to the left and right of the sitter and the chair.
Sample 3: Taken from the lower right-hand edge shows an opaque grey underlayer beneath the copper green glaze. The green glaze in this sample has partially deteriorated to a brown.
Sample 10: Taken from the background drapery shows the thick chalk ground and thin lead priming layer. An opaque mixed grey, with occasional particles of red lake and red ochre, lies above the priming and serves as an underlayer for the green paint. In the area sampled, a thin layer of lead-tin yellow was present above the grey undermodelling and beneath the green glaze. The lead-tin yellow was likely to have been used to achieve a brighter tone of green in an area of highlight. Dispersions taken from the background identified a fine lamp black.
Green chair arm
Sample 2: A cross-section taken from this area shows the full layer structure of the painting. The priming was identified as pure lead within this sample. Above this, a thin medium-rich layer containing a little red lead was applied (perhaps as a laying-in layer), followed by a yellowish green paint composed of lead-tin yellow, black and brown. A dark, translucent layer on the surface appears dark green in cross-section and was identified as a copper green glaze when set in dispersion. Some verdigris particles were not dissolved in the copper green glaze, and green verditer and ochre were also found in this same dispersion. It is not clear where they lie in the layer structure.
Sample 4: A dispersion was taken of the metal knob on the arm of the chair. This shows that the light brown paint was composed of a mixture of chalk and lead white, with a few yellow and red pigment particles.
Coat of arms
Sample 9: The sample taken from the upper edge of the coat of arms shows all the paint layers: chalk ground, lead white priming and two paint layers. The first paint layer, present above the priming is a dark grey/black composed of a dense black and lead white. The upper paint layer is composed of pure lead white, perhaps applied with two strokes of the brush. A dispersion taken of black and white in this areas has been identified as burnt plant black.
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 paint handling and technique is of a very high quality. The painting is executed very skilfully, with subtle use of opaque layers and transparent glaze layers.
There is a chalk ground and a white priming.
A considerable amount of black, carbon-based underdrawing is present beneath the thinly applied paint in the face, hair, beard, ear, moustache and hands (see Infrared reflectography). As a result of abrasion in the face, sparkly black underdrawing is exposed at the surface in a number of areas. The marks appear varied in thickness and seem to taper at the end of many strokes, indicating the use of wet medium. The underdrawing appears to have been applied directly over the white priming (see IRR mosaic 01). Paint sampling notes suggest that visually the underdrawing material has the appearance of graphite; however, this is a dry medium. Scientific analysis with Rahmen will be necessary in order to identify the material more accurately.
The face is very abraded and parts have been retouched. The flesh is composed of a single thin layer of lead white, charcoal black and vermilion. Although the surface is abraded and the paint has become more transparent with time, it is likely that the black underdrawing was originally intended to show through the flesh paint to some extent, as a means of defining the principal facial features. A translucent brown composed of black, earth pigments and vermilion was used to define the facial features, with some red lake for depth of shadow. Lead white, vermilion, red lake and black were used to define the tear duct. The underdrawing is clearly visible through the flesh paint in the face (see micro 02). The lips were thinly painted, with a thicker red lake used to define the lip parting (see micro 09).
Hair, beard and moustache
These areas appear to have been painted directly above the priming layer, which shows through the thinly applied paint. Individual brushstrokes have been used to define hairs in the beard and moustache (see micro 08 and micro 17).
The hands are not as worn as the flesh in the face. The paint is softly blended (see micro 13).
The red costume was created by applying a layer of white or pale pink to the sleeves, doublet and hose. A broad, reasonably stiff brush was used to apply this layer, allowing individual brushstrokes to remain visible on the surface. In the hose, an opaque red (perhaps red earth) was also used. A thin translucent layer of red lake was applied over the costume (see micro 10). The red lake varies in thickness and tone in order to define areas of highlight and shadow. The darkest passages of red and areas of detail have charcoal black mixed into the red lake (see micro 11). In the hose, blotting marks have been observed in the red lake layer, where paint was applied (probably with a brush) and blotted off with a cloth or fingers to remove some of the colour from the surface (see micro 15). This technique was used to vary the thickness of the red lake layer and create a texture which reflects that of rich velvet. Lead-tin yellow was then used to paint the gold stitching on the surface, and in some areas red lead was added to the lead-tin yellow to make it warmer and more golden in tone. A very fine brush was used to paint the lead-tin yellow detail on the hose. The grey bands on the sleeves were painted above the red costume paint, using lead white, charcoal black and yellow ochre. Fine lines of carbon particles can be seen with microscopy, where the positions for painting the slashes in the doublet fabric were marked with fine drawing on the surface of the red paint. There are several areas of misalignment in the costume down the panel joins (see Support and X-ray, and also the restoration notes below).
Collar and cuffs
The cuffs were first laid in above the priming using a pale grey composed of lead white and black. Highlights and details were then applied above using lead white, with shadows and dark details applied using charcoal black and lead white (see micro 05 and micro 16).
The black hat is composed of black, lead white, a little red lake and red lead in the highlights. In areas where the black is particularly rich, a thin red lake glaze appears to have been applied above the black pigment. The black hat is very worn (see micro 18). The first layer for the feather plume was laid in before the background, using lead white, black, earth pigments, red lead and possibly some red lake. A layer of red lake and charcoal black was then applied above. The feather details were added using lead white and red lead and red lake was finally used for shadow and to create variations in tone (see micro 03). Remnants of non-original dark green paint can be seen on the feather plume in a number of areas. This suggests that the plume may have been painted out at some stage, and then exposed during the past cleaning.
The medal is painted directly above the costume (see detail 06). In a similar manner to the coat of arms, smalt was applied to define the border, before details were added. The St. George, horse and dragon were then painted using lead-tin yellow, black, lead white and copper green glaze (see micro 12).
Sword and hilt
The sword hilt was first laid in with a dark grey composed of white, lead-tin yellow, black, red lead and possibly earth pigments. Lead-tin yellow was then applied using fine brushstrokes above the grey for highlights and details. Red lead was added to vary the tone of the the lead-tin yellow in areas, and where the pigment is smoothly blended it was applied wet-in-wet to the grey (see micro 14).
Coat of arms
The surround to the coat of arms was painted above the background, with a thin layer of grey composed of charcoal black and lead white. Above this, a layer of smalt was applied, with lead-tin yellow detail on the surface. The smalt has degraded to a yellow/brown (see detail 02). The lead-tin yellow detail and inscription has red lead, black and earths added to vary the tone and create shadow (see micro 06). Parts of the coat of arms have been heavily restored, and a non-original blue defines the lions in the upper-right quadrant.
The background is somewhat indistinct in areas of deepest shadow. Surface examination suggests that the green drapery extends across the entire background. In the deepest shadows, which appear almost black, fragments of green glaze and red lake are clearly visible with microscopy. The glazes in these areas appear heavily abraded, and a considerable amount of restoration is present. The background was first modelled in dark grey, with lead-tin yellow highlights applied thinly above. In areas of extreme highlight, the lead-tin yellow was applied more thickly. It was applied quite dry, with a reasonably stiff brush, allowing the brushstrokes to remain visible. A vivid copper green glaze was applied above the grey underpainting and the yellow highlights (see micro 04 and micro 19). The green glaze appears to be composed of dissolved verdigris in oil. There are parts which have remained in good condition, but some discolouration of the copper green glaze can be seen, particularly in the upper right, although some of the brown present on the surface may be remnants of degraded varnish. In the upper right corner it appears that the green glaze has been entirely removed, exposing the grey underpaint. This may have been removed here due to discolouration of the green glaze, which may have turned into a patchy brown.
Order of construction
- Hat, including the first layer of feather plume
- Ruff and cuffs laid in
- Grey underpainting in background
- Fine carbon lines mark the positions for painting the doublet slashes
- Green glaze above grey underpainting and yellow highlights in the background
- Lead-tin yellow details, including sword hilt and highlights on background drapery and chair arm
- Lead white details in ruff and cuffs
- Coat of arms, Order of the Garter
Lead white, charcoal black, lamp black, burnt plant black, vermilion, red lead, red lake, copper green glaze, smalt, lead-tin yellow, yellow lake, earth pigments
Changes in composition/pentimenti
There is a slight change in the position of the wrist on the left where the painted position is higher than the underdrawn line.
The losses down the joins are restored. There is also restoration on the losses at the top and bottom edges, and in several other areas, especially on right side of the hat below the feather and on the background under the arm on the left. Parts of abraded paint layers on the face have been retouched. There are several areas of misalignment in the paint surface of the costume, down the panel joins where the edges were trimmed when the boards were rejoined (see Support and X-ray)
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
In ultra violet light it is evident that there are very thin residues of natural varnish, with slightly green fluorescence, which remain after careful cleaning. Losses down the panel joins are restored and there are scattered restored losses over the rest of the paint surface (see UV 01). There are small retouchings on the abraded flesh paint on the hand on the left. There is a fairly large area of restoration on the hat near the feather and also at the lower edge near the panel joins. Areas in the face which appear white in ultra violet light are probably areas where the light priming has been exposed by abrasion of the flesh paint. The pinkish orange fluorescence in the costume and the red feather indicates the present of madder lake.
See this portrait
On display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Portrait of the Day: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
28 August, 12:30
- Portrait of the Day: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
5 August, 12:30