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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Johnson

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

Contents Foreword Introduction Catalogue scope Abbreviations Arrangement of entries

Maurice Johnson (1685-1755)

Antiquary; founded the 'Gentlemen's Society' at Spalding, 1709-10, and the Stamford Society, c.1721;barrister, Inner Temple, 1710; hon. librarian of Society of Antiquaries, 1717; left large manuscript collections relating chiefly to Lincolnshire and Peterborough antiquities; writings by him in Nichols' 'Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica'; married 5 January 1709-10 Elizabeth Ambler, who died 1754, and by whom he had twenty-six children.

4684 By George Vertue, 1731
Miniature, watercolour on vellum stuck to card, 1 7/8 x 1 19/32in. (48 x 40 mm) [1]; brown eyes, arched black eyebrows, dimpled chin, white wig parted in centre, with knotted ends; large white bands, black gown; plain blue background.

Signed in monogram GV and dated 17 (rest missing); inscribed on the back of the card: MAUR: JOHNSON.I. / AEt.44. / GVertue. p / 1731(the AE in monogram).

The back of the case is engraved with the arms of Johnson of Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding, Lincs. They may be blazoned: Or a Water—bouget Sable on a Chief of the last three Annulets of the field. Crest: Out of a Ducal Coronet Or two Wings erect Sable. Johnson impales the arms of Ambler of Kirton, Lincs, namely: Sable a Cross Ermine in the dexter quarter a Leopards Face Argent. [2] Below, a motto: AEQUAM SERVATO MENTEM [3], and around the outer rim: MAUR. JOHNSON I.C. SOC. INT. TEMPLI S Pignus Amicitae accepit Amoris dedit 1731.

NPG 4684, the only extant likeness, is authenticated by the inscription and by probable descent from the sitter.

Condition: Fair: severe water damage in the past has led to numerous retouchings in the face, wig and right background, but in no case do these amount to repainting. They incorporate zinc white (in use from c.1810). [4]

Collections: Given 1969 by C.A. Marsden. Weaver very reasonably interprets the inscription as meaning that Vertue gave the miniature to the sitter in token of their friendship and that Johnson gave it to his wife as a pledge of love; [5]Johnson's wife predeceased him and the miniature presumably descended through Anne Elizabeth Johnson, a great-granddaughter, who married, 1807, Rev. William Moore DD of Spalding; [6]Moore's daughter Caroline married Rev. John Howard Marsden in 1840, father of Lt-Col. Marsden of Farnham, Surrey (1841-1925), [7] the owner when Weaver wrote in 1916. [8]

Engraved: By F. Holl, as frontispiece to an article on Johnson in the Proceedings of the Archaeological Institute, 1848, opposite p.82, the engraving presented by Mrs Dinham, a descendant of the sitter.

Literature: Proceedings of the Archaeological Institute (Lincoln) 1848; The Genealogist, ed. G.W. Marshall, vol.I, O.S., 1877; Family Memoirs of William Stukeley, ed. W.C. Lukis (Surtees Society, vol.80, 1885), III; L. Weaver, notes in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, 2nd series, vol. XXVIII, 1916. 


The DNB records portraits in oil still in the family at Ayscoughfee, Blundeston and Sleaford and at least two miniatures, one engraved by Holl, viz NPG4684. [9] The collections at Blundeston and Ayscoughfee were apparently sold in 1898, Christie's, 24, 25 and 28 March, property of the late Maurice Johnson, for Weaver writing in 1916 mentions that Ayscoughfee had been dispersed. No portraits of Maurice Johnson, however, appear among the paintings sold on the 28 March. Stukeley (q.v.) had a drawing by Van der Gucht, 1723. [10]


1. Actual dimensions; opened, April 1975.
2. I am grateful to Mr Brooke-Little for his description of the arms and the following comments: Johnson has three quarterings but these are not readily identifiable and do not seem to fit the printed pedigree of the family. Ambler also has three, the third and fourth probably for Eure and Thorpe. If the objects on the bend in the second quartering are crosses formy fitched then this quartering could be for Oldfield as Elizabeth Ambler's mother was Mary, daughter of Sir Anthony Oldfield Bart; this means that the third and fourth quarterings could have been brought in by Oldfield.
3. Cp Horace lib. ii, ode 3 'aequam . . . servare mentem'. According to Mr Brooke-Little, the motto must have been personal to Maurice Johnson, as the family seem to have used the motto Onus Sub Honore, fairly consistently.
4. I am grateful to Mr V.J. Murrell for this report.
5. Weaver, pp.135-36.
6. The Genealogist I, pp.110-114; Burke, Landed Gentry, 1858, pp.629-30, 819-20.
7. A. Burke, Family Records, 1897, p.423.
8. Loc. cit.
9. DNB X, p.912, a reprint of the 1892 entry.
10. Family Memoirs, part III, p.484, 'List of portraits' (4).