Robert Peake: technical evidence and patronage

Catharine MacLeod, Curator, Seventeenth-century collections, National Portrait Gallery

Making Art in Tudor Britain

Abstract of a paper presented at Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage
Funded by the British Academy and The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Robert Peake (c.1551–1619) trained as a goldsmith but established a reputation as a decorative painter and portraitist during the reign of Elizabeth I. In later life, during the reign of James I, he was appointed Serjeant Painter jointly with John de Critz. This gave him increased responsibility for decorative works, but during this time he also produced numerous portraits, particularly of the royal children. Using technical evidence about works attributed to Peake, uncovered as part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project, this paper considers what can be inferred about the organisation of a busy and prominent studio in the early Jacobean period. It examines to what extent traditional models of the division of labour in the studio have validity in this context, whether there are technical markers for work from Peake’s studio and what the concept of an individual artist’s authorship can actually mean at this period. It also considers the way in which both compositional and technical aspects of Peake’s portraiture reflect responses to different sitters and patrons.