The Somerset House Conference, 1604

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The Somerset House Conference, 1604

by Unknown artist
oil on canvas, 1604
81 in. x 105 1/2 in. (2057 mm x 2680 mm)
Purchased, 1882
Primary Collection
NPG 665

On display in Room 4 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6578 portraits.

Sittersback to top

This portraitback to top

This group portrait commemorates the peace treaty between England and Spain in 1604 which brought an end to a war which had dragged on for almost twenty years. Between 20 May and 16 July 1604, eighteen conference sessions were held at Somerset House, and the treaty was signed on 16 August. While those depicted were not all present at the same time, the painting may well record the appearance of the room in Old Somerset House where the negotiations took place. On the left are the members of the Hispano-Flemish delegation, on the right, the English commissioners. Although it apparently bears the signature of the Spanish painter Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, this painting also bears an impossible date, 1594. It is generally thought that both signature and the date are false and that it is by a hitherto unidentified Flemish artist. It may be associated with John De Critz the Elder, whose paintings were probably the source for the portraits of Robert Cecil and Thomas Sackville.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 5289: Sir Roy Strong (includes the portrait)
  • NPG x12533: Sir Roy Strong (includes the portrait)
  • NPG D23070: Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire (appears within the portrait)

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 164 Read entry

    This group portrait commemorates the peace treaty between England and Spain that brought an end to a war that had lasted for almost twenty years. Between 20 May and 16 July 1604, eighteen conference sessions were held at Somerset House, and the treaty was signed on 16 August. Spain agreed to recognise the Protestant monarchy in England, and England ended its financial and military support for the Dutch rebellion in the Netherlands. The Hispano-Flemish delegation is seated on the left-hand side of the composition and the English on the right-hand side. The English were led by James I's chief minister, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who is seated at the lower-right corner, closest to the viewer. The portrait does not record a particular moment during the conference, as not all the delegates were present at the same time, but it may well depict the appearance of the room in Old Somerset House where the negotiations took place. The painting bears two incorrect inscriptions, which must be later additions: one gives the date of the work as 1594; the other ascribes the work to the Spanish artist Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. The painting may be associated with John de Critz the Elder, who was working as Serjeant-Painter at this date, and whose portrait of Robert Cecil was probably used as the source for the earl's likeness in this painting.

  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 26
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 27
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 27
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 28
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 48
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, pp. 48-9 Read entry

    This painting is a record of the conference held at Somerset House in August 1604 to determine the terms of peace between England and Spain after nearly twenty years of war. To the left sit the Spanish delegates, including (nearest to the window) the Constable of Castile. To the right are the English delegates, the Earls of Dorset, Nottingham, Devonshire and Northampton and, nearest the spectator, Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranborne. According to an early but probably not original inscription, it may have been by a Spanish artist, Pantoja de la Cruz, who painted portraits of the Spanish aristocracy, but there is no supporting evidence that he was in England in 1604, and the style of the painting is more Flemish than Spanish.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 706
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 63,351
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, pp. 66 - 67 Read entry

    This large group portrait commemorates the peace treaty signed between England and Spain in August 1604. The two countries had been at war since 1585 but the conflict had reached a stalemate following the failure of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The deaths of Philip II of Spain in 1598 and Elizabeth I in 1603 enabled their royal successors, both of whom lacked the will or funds to prolong the war, to negotiate peace.

    The conference took place in Somerset House, the residence of the queen consort, Anne of Denmark, and one of the grandest properties in London. The house was richly decorated for the event and it is possible that this picture accurately records the appearance of the room in which the treaty was signed. The soberly dressed delegates sit in two rows. To the left are the Spanish, led by the Constable of Castile, Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias (nearest the window). To the right are the English, the Earls of Dorset, Nottingham, Devonshire, Northampton and Robert Cecil, the key negotiator of the English delegation, who sits with the treaty before him. He was created Earl of Salisbury in 1605. It is unlikely that all the sitters were present at the same time and many of the faces are based on other portraits. Although the identity of the artist is uncertain, this magnificent painting of a key moment of diplomacy is unprecedented in British art.

Placesback to top

Events of 1604back to top

Current affairs

James I summons the Hampton Court Conference to ease tensions between Puritans and Anglican bishops. The conference is attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, who dies soon afterwards; he is succeeded by Richard Bancroft.
Parliament assembles and debates James I's desire for administrative and parliamentary union with Scotland.

Art and science

Robert Peake the Elder is appointed picture maker to Prince Henry.
A table Alphabeticall, created by lexicographer and clergyman, Robert Cawdrey, is the first English dictionary to be published.
First recorded performance at Whitehall Palace of William Shakespeare's tragedy Othello.


James I of England ends the Anglo-Spanish War with Spain after twenty years of intermittent hostilities, resulting in the Treaty of London. A series of conferences are held at Somerset House, London, between members of the Hispano-Flemish delegation and the English commissioners to negotiate the treaty.

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Lindsay V. Smith

31 March 2019, 16:38

Prof. Fiona Stafford, Somerville College, Oxford.
Series of talks on BBC Radio3: The meaning of Flowers: Bluebells.
Prof. Stafford describes this image - in particular referring to the colourful "table cloth" and the
immaculate brightness and crispness of all the sitters' elaborately starched ruffs.
These examples of gentlemen wearing the high fashion of the time would have been the result
of the use of Bluebell "juice" extracted from the bulbs - producing the bleaching and stiffening
required for such elaborate garments.
This product was also used by "Fletchers" as adhesive to attach feathers / flights to arrows - and also
on paper in book production.

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