- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, early 19th century
22 in. x 16 5/8 in. (559 mm x 422 mm)
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New Date: Late 18th century
Key findings: This picture can categorically be confirmed as a later portrait on the basis of evidence from paint sampling and stylistic analysis. The painting is an interesting example of how later artists attempted to mimic Tudor painting techniques.
Purchased in 1981. The earliest known owner of the work is Viscount Galway (Avington Park) until 1951. The National Portrait Gallery acquired it when it was sold at Christie's on the 27 March 1981, Lot 109.
The portrait shows Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester (1446-1528). He appears here half-length, wearing a bishop's chimere, a black stole, and a black hat, his hands clasping the top of a stick. An inscription appears at the top left of the portrait: RICARDVS FOX ESPISC. WINTON.
Notes on likely authorship
The picture was certainly painted in the eighteenth century or later and is after an original attributed to Johannes Corvus at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, c.1528. This attribution derives from the note George Vertue made when he engraved the picture in 1723 which stated that the words 'Ioannes Corvus/Flandrus Feiciebat' appeared on the frame.
Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The painting style and technique show clear signs of more modern elements and methods than those contemporary with the sixteenth century. There are some distinctive 'modern' touches in the handling of the flesh tones (for example in the yellows and highlights).
The background paint is freely applied with the ground showing through. In some parts the background paint overlaps the edges of the white sleeve paint. A paint sample from the green background of the portrait contains the pigment prussian blue which is heavily embedded into the paint layers and cannot be later restoration. The earliest recorded picture containing this pigment dates from the early eighteenth century. An x-ray of the painting revealed the use of a thick dense priming layer, evidently lead white. This technique would be consistent with that used in the eighteenth century. An early nineteenth-century pigment known as chrome yellow may also be present but this could not be fully confirmed.
Justification for dating
The portrait is inscribed with the letters MDXXII, indicating a date of 1522. However, the key indicator for the eighteenth-century dating is the presence of a later pigment. In addition the handling of the underdrawing has the appearance of hesitant sketch marks, comparable to those made by an artist trained in a late eighteenth-century academy style. The handling is a good example of the eighteenth-, or early nineteenth-century, interest in the Tudor period, but the artist has taken considerable trouble in attempting to mimic early Tudor painting techniques.
Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology revealed the wood derives from a tree which cannot have been felled before 1597, showing that a late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century panel has been employed at a far later date.
Drawing and transfer technique
Some underdrawing is evident in the eyes, nose and eyebrows. The drawing style is free and is not consistent with the style and technique used in the sixteenth century.
Relevance to other known versions
There is another late sixteenth-century portrait at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 874) of similar size and pose, but in very poor condition. There were originally seven portraits at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
There are others at:
- Magdalene, Oxford
- Pembroke, Cambridge
- Wolvesey Palace, Winchester
- Aukland Castle, Durham
- Taunton and Grantham Schools
- Sudeley Castle
Others certainly exist but their whereabouts cannot be traced.
Tudor Exhibition Catalogue, The New Gallery, 1890, p.42, (No.118)
Tudor Exhibition, Manchester, 1897, p.7, (No.17)
The appearance of the painting is good. The panel is reasonably stable but the top of one panel join has a tendency to open a little.
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: 1589
The panel is constructed from three vertical boards, with the widest board in the centre, and the boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front) for analysis. Only two boards contained sufficient rings for analysis and the data shows that both boards derive from the same tree. The last tree ring identified was from 1589 and as there was no sapwood present a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings (for German or Dutch timber) indicated that the tree used for boards B and C cannot have been felled before 1597. The boards are not particularly wide, and have been thinned and were cradled (now removed), which has removed any evidence of board production methods; it is therefore not appropriate to apply an LEHR-usage range to the panel.
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.
A previous x-ray test was taken by the Courtauld (date unknown) showing the surface to be impenetrable.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Some drawing is visible and is not consistent with sixteenth-century artistic practice. The drawing is expressive and appears to be softly built up freehand, probably in a dry medium. There is extensive drawing in the eyes, nose, mouth and contours of the facial features, probably copied directly from another source (see IRR mosaic 01).
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 identification of prussian blue has previously been confirmed (Eastaugh, 1981).
The lead white used in the thick white ground was identified as being 'prismatic' white, made with a method found in early nineteenth century painting and occasionally in late eighteenth century painting. The use of a thick white lead priming imitates the technique of Tudor paintings. Beneath this is a chalk layer, as in Tudor paintings, but which might have been applied at an earlier period. The fine particled yellow, mixed with prussian blue, does not have the characteristics of early yellows and has the appearance of chrome yellow.
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.
The drawing style suggests modern elements in technique (see micro 01, micro 02 and micro 03 for visible underdrawing). Paint sample analysis has identified prussian blue in the background (see Paint sampling). The panel is prepared with a white chalk ground. There is a thick lead white priming. The lead white is made with a nineteenth century method (see Paint sampling). The panel is late sixteenth or early seventeenth century (see Dendrochronology) and it is possible that an older painting was scraped down (leaving the chalk ground) and reused for this portrait.