Mary Nevill, Lady Dacre; Gregory Fiennes, 10th Baron Dacre
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Mary Nevill, Lady Dacre; Gregory Fiennes, 10th Baron Dacre
by Hans Eworth
oil on panel, 1559
19 3/4 in. x 28 1/8 in. (500 mm x 714 mm)
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Key findings: Original dating and authorship confirmed. The painting technique is outstandingly skilful. A limited amount of loose underdrawing is evident with infrared reflectography in the clothes but not in the faces. The use of the single panel has contributed to the excellent condition of this picture.
This portrait was formerly considered to be the Duchess of Suffolk and her husband Adrian Stokes. The painting was re-identified as the current sitters following research by Susan Foister (Foister, 1986, pp.58-60). The identity is now considered secure, based on comparison of the facial likeness to another depiction of Lady Dacre, and the sitter dates and ages.
The portrait is signed HE. It was painted following the restoration of title and lands to Gregory Fiennes after his father had been executed in 1541. Eworth had also been commissioned to paint Lady Dacre a few years before in mourning for the death of her husband (Baroness Dacre, c.1555, Hans Eworth, National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa).
The portrait was known to have been in the collection of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill but was then sold in 1842 to the Reverend H. Finch and remained in private collections. It was on loan to the National Portrait Gallery from 1985, and was purchased by the Gallery in 2008.
Notes on likely authorship
There is a painted inscription at the top right of the work signed in monogram 'HE'. The monogram was once thought to be of Lucas de Heere, who was working in England in the 1570s. The HE monogram is now securely identified as belonging to Hans Eworth. The portrait was ascribed by Cust to Eworth in 1913 (Cust, 1913).
Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
As with all of Eworth's portraits that have been examined as part of this study, the panel is prepared with a white chalk ground, but with this portrait, a thin light brown priming layer lies over this. With x-ray analysis the broad brush of the priming layer and the integrated brushwork of the upper paint layers are clearly visible.
This painting is considered to be one of Hans Eworth's most accomplished works. The painting method is very sophisticated and conveys a range of textures and materials. The paint layers are very finely blended; the painting of the flesh modelling is achieved with exceptional skill. What makes this painting so extraordinary are the details of the costume such as the brown, red and black stitched embroidery, the gold vertical stitching, the curling and lace of the cuffs and ruffs, and the jewellery and fur, which are all exceptionally detailed and meticulously painted (see detail 04 and detail 05).
The warm priming layer is used as the mid-tone in many areas of the portrait: for example, on the chest and sleeves of Fiennes' slashed doublet and in the gloves of both figures. Light reflected from the white ground beneath the semi-transparent priming layer gives a luminous quality to the most thinly painted passages. This adds to the subtle depth and quality of the materials and the fabrics, such as Fiennes' doublet, the fur and Lady Dacre's silk dress.
Many details, such as the gold of the jewellery, the sword hilt, cuffs and sleeves, were painted with lead-tin yellow. The paint here is applied with thick layers, which gives texture and a three-dimensional quality to the final details. The background paint is used to brush in the first lines of the fur at the edge of Fiennes' collar. This technique appears to be common to Netherlandish artists and is also seen in the execution of the beards in William Paget (NPG 961), Gerlache Flicke and Henry Strangwish (NPG 6353), and Thomas Wentworth (NPG1851).
The painting is in very good condition, partly as a result of being painted on a single board of wood and consequently there are no panel joins. There are some small losses along the bottom edge of the paint surface that can be seen clearly with x-ray: these have been previously restored. X-ray also reveals a loss of paint at the left of the first 'X' in the inscription that gives Lady Dacre's age. In addition there are some retouchings in the flesh and two small glossy areas on the left shoulder of Lady Dacre's costume. The varnish on the work has yellowed a little and is somewhat opaque and unsaturated. As a result some of the subtle details in the black and dark grey sleeves are obscured.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology, revealed that the last heartwood ring dates from 1535. This suggests a possible felling date after 1545. This leaves a maximum of fourteen years before the wood was put to use.
It would be highly appropriate for the work to have been painted in 1559 and this date corresponds to the ages of the sitters. This would have coincided with the restoration to Gregory of all lands, titles and honours as Lord Dacre when Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. This portrait was almost certainly painted to commemorate the new Lord Dacre restored to his honours and his triumphant mother who had battled for the restoration of the family titles.
Drawing and transfer technique
Many parts of the black underdrawing can be seen in the paint surface. This underdrawing was seemingly done using a liquid medium applied with a brush over the warm tone of the priming layer. Infrared reflectography reveals relatively free underdrawing in several parts of Fiennes' costume, marking out the outline and details of the costume (for example, the fur, jewels, decoration of sleeves, and slashes on Fiennes' doublet) and Fiennes' hands.
There is no obvious underdrawing in either of the figure's faces but there is some fine outlining of Lady Dacre's eyelids and fine lines at the edge of her hair. It was suggested in 1998 (after infrared examination of paintings by Hans Eworth at the National Gallery) that the faces may have been underdrawn in a different material from the costume. This was apparently not an unusual practice: the portrait of John Luttrell (The Courtauld Gallery) has no underdrawing under the head but considerable drawing elsewhere.
A small number of changes to the final composition made by the artist are evident from x-ray and infrared analysis. The key areas of changes to the composition are as follows:
- the face of Fiennes has been made less full when the paint layers were applied
- the width of the black veil hanging down from the back of Lady Dacre's headdress shows alteration, it has been made a little narrower during the painting process
- the left shoulder of Fiennes seems to have been altered a little
Relevance to other known versions
There are no other known versions. An engraving by George Vertue, who owned the portrait in 1740, shows the sitters wrongly identified as the Duchess of Suffolk and her husband Adrian Stokes.
Cooper, Tarnya, A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 2008, pp.36-38
Cooper, Tarnya, in 'Acquisition Highlights', Art Fund Review, 2008/9, p.59
Cust, Lionel, 'The Painter H.E.', The Walpole Society Journal, vol. 2, 1913, pp. 1-44
Foister, Susan, 'Nobility Reclaimed' in The Antique Collector, no.4, 1986, pp.58-60
Hearn, Karen, ed., Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate, 1995, pp.68-69 (No.25)
Honig, Elizabeth, 'In Memory: Lady Dacre and Pairing', in Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn, eds., Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c.1540-1660, 1990, pp.62-85
Strong, Roy, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, London, 1969, p.91 (No.30)
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540- 1620, Tate Gallery, 1969-70, p.24 (No.33)
Tudor Exhibition Catalogue, The New Gallery, 1890, p.79, (No.255)
Tudor Exhibition, Manchester, 1897, p.36, (No.105)
Varkonda-Bishop, Linda, 'Haunce the Drawer'. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Florida State University, 1979, pp.77-8
The general condition of the painting is good. The panel has a slight warp. There are restored old paint losses along the bottom edge, and a few small discoloured retouchings in the faces and hands, and in Lady's Dacre's left shoulder. There are a few age cracks, and some slightly raised craquelure in the faces, but this is secure. The varnish layers are discoloured and yellowed, with slight fracture lines. The varnish has become a little opaque and unsaturated, and is obscuring the subtle details in the black and dark grey sleeves. There are two small glossy areas on Lady Dacre's costume on the shoulder on the right.
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: 1
Last date of tree ring: 1535
The single board has a horizontal grain alignment and at 500 mm it is unusually wide. The board has a tapering cross-section with tool marks, from a 'shave' on the back. No sapwood was present at the lower edge, so a terminus post quem can be applied to the panel. The centre of the lower edge has a slightly different character, which might suggest that this was the original edge of the heartwood/sapwood boundary. However, this could equally be a mark left by a framing arrangement. The last heartwood ring is dated to 1535 and adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings (+10 for English oak), suggested that the tree was felled after 1545.
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 brushwork of the priming layer and the fine technique of the paint layers above are both clearly visible in the x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01).
Changes in composition/pentimenti
The outline of the black veil hanging down from the back of Lady Dacre's headdress was changed to make it a little narrower (see Infrared reflectography and Surface examination). The outline of Fiennes' shoulder on the right side seems to have been altered a little.
The extent of the paint losses along the bottom edge of the paint surface can be seen clearly, as can a small loss at the left of the first 'X' in the inscription giving Lady Dacre's age. The wood grain of the panel is also evident.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Black underdrawing, apparently carried out with a brush in a liquid medium, can be seen in several parts of Fiennes' costume, particularly marking out the outlines and details of Fiennes' costume and hands. The edge of the fur on his sleeve on the right is indicated with a wavy line. There are also fine lines on Fiennes' ears and also up the left side of the face (see IRR mosaic 02) (the face was made less full at the painting stage) (see Surface examination and Paint sampling).
There appears to be some underdrawing under Lady Dacre's cuffs, under her left hand and under her collar. Underdrawing around her hands is probably covered by the black costume. There is no obvious underdrawing under the faces but there seems to be some fine outlining of Lady Dacre's eyelids and some fine lines at the edge of her hair.
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 November 2007.
Ground and preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a thick chalk ground, and a thin pale grey priming layer, containing lead white and traces of black.
Decoration on costume
Sample 3, taken from an aglet along the left-hand edge, showed the full layer structure, and confirmed the surface observation that the aglet was painted over the black paint with lead-tin yellow (see Surface examination). The paint also contains what appears to be red lead. Red lead was also identified in the black paint mixture, and may have been added as a dryer, because of the poor drying properties of black pigment in oil medium. A large formation of lead soap can be seen in the cross-section.
The paint of the red cushion showed a standard structure of bright opaque vermilion, with a glaze of deep red lake applied over it. The red sample taken from Fiennes' costume consisted of high quality dry-process vermilion and a high proportion of red lake.
Although there is no obvious use of blue in the painting, close examination showed several occurrences of blue pigments. In the white of the fur, a bright, clear blue, which appeared to be azurite, could be seen as scattered particles within the white. A second sampling confirmed that it was azurite.
A second blue was also used in the pearl ring worn by Lady Dacre. This had the overall appearance of ultramarine, although the particles were not of the angular appearance normally associated with this pigment.
Smalt was also identified in a sample from Lady Dacre's cuff, just above the hand.
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 sophisticated and conveys a range of textures and materials. The paint layers are finely blended, especially the modelling of the flesh paint, which is exceptionally fine and smooth.
Ground and priming
The panel is prepared with a white chalk ground, over which lies a thin light priming layer (see Paint sampling). The broad brushstrokes of the priming can be seen under the more thinly painted passages of the image. The priming layer is used as the mid-tone in many areas, in the chest and sleeves of Fiennes' slashed doublet, under the fur on his costume, in both gloves, the shadows of the flesh paint, under the hair and the thin paint layers of the cuffs and both the collars (see micro 09). Light reflected from the white ground beneath the semi-transparent priming layer gives a luminous quality to the most thinly painted passages (see micro 11 and micro 16). This adds to the subtle depth and quality of the materials and fabrics. Fine indented straight lines, running diagonally and vertically over the surface, can be seen with magnification (see micro 17). These lines appear to be beneath the paint layers in the ground, but there is no obvious reason for their presence.
Many parts of the underdrawing can be seen through the paint surface. The underdrawing was applied, apparently with a brush, over the warm priming layer to mark the forms and some details of the costume (see micro 11 and micro 18 and Infrared reflectography).
Paint layer structure
Build-up of paint layers
Thin layers were initially painted for the flesh paint, Fiennes' doublet, sleeves, gloves and the cuffs and collars of both figures. Lead white, black, vermilion and ochre, all with very finely ground particles, were observed in the flesh paint (see micro 01, micro 03 and micro 05).
The modelling and highlights on the flesh and clothing were painted with thicker, blended opaque layers over these thin, semi-transparent first layers. This includes the dark paint of Lady Dacre's dress and Fiennes' jacket sleeves, which are very subtly painted with modulated grey and black. Over these layers the fine detail of embroidery (now considerably obscured by the varnish) was applied. Down the edges of the black front panel of Lady Dacre's costume are fine parallel lines of vertical stitching, painted with a slight impasto. The surface texture of these can be seen with a raking light, but otherwise they are obscured. Eworth created depth in fabric in various ways, for example, in the cuffs the curling detail was painted first with slightly impasted white paint to convey the raised effect, then fine thin brushstrokes of brown and red (a vermilion and red glaze mixture) embroidery were applied (see micro 08). The slight 'beading' of the black paint on the collar and cuff is a characteristic found in other paintings of this period and implies poor adhesion where black was thinly applied over a smooth paint layer, see Catherine Parr (NPG 4451). The slightly impasted paint gives texture and a three-dimensional quality to the final details. The blue pigment smalt was identified in the paint mixture in the cuffs, presumably to increase the luminosity of the whiteness.
The background was painted in two stages, using the same method as was found in the other Eworth portraits of Nicholas Heath (NPG 1388) and Anthony Browne (NPG 842). The first paint layers of the background were applied at an early stage, and further layers were applied when the detailed modelling of the face and costumes was carried out. The lines at the left edge of Fiennes' face and the left edge of Lady Dacre's veil were altered with background paint blended into the outlines. Background paint was used to brush in the first lines of the fur at the edge of Fiennes' collar, a technique which can be compared to the technique used in the depiction of beards by other continental artists, such as that found in William Paget (NPG 961), Gerlach Flicke and Henry Strangwish (NPG 6353) and Thomas Wentworth (NPG 1851), (see micro 12 and micro 25).
There is a dark green glaze on the ring on Lady Dacre's index finger on the right (see micro 19). Most of this has discoloured but some dark green remains.
The blue pigment on the pearl on the ring on Lady Dacre's ring finger on the right has the brightness and the appearance of ultramarine, but the particles do not have the angular appearance typically associated with ultramarine (see micro 22).
Under magnification, particles of azurite can be seen in the grey fur paint mixture on Fiennes' costume, and also in the grey/green on the buttons attached to the edge of the collar and near the elbows (see micro 23).
There is a painted inscription at the top left with the monogram: 'HE' (see micro 24).
Paint layer structure and pigments
Order of construction
- White chalk ground
- Thin light grey priming
- First thin paint layers for flesh, cuffs, collars, costume, and background
- Opaque modelling layers
- Some changes to the outlines of Fiennes' face and Lady Dacre's veil
- Further paint layers on background
- Details of collars and cuffs (see notes above)
- Final highlight details of jewels, costume
Lead white, carbon black, lead-tin yellow, vermilion, red lake, red lead, azurite, smalt, possibly ultramarine, copper green glaze
Changes to composition/pentimenti
As noted above, changes were made to the shape of Fiennes' face, and the width of Lady Dacre's veil. These can be seen more clearly in infrared reflectography and x-ray.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
The varnish appears opaque with a slight greenish fluorescence. There is some old restoration.
See this portrait
On display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery