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Sir Thomas Gresham

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Sir Thomas Gresham

by Unknown Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1565
39 1/2 in. x 28 1/2 in. (1003 mm x 724 mm)
Purchased, 1872
Primary Collection
NPG 352

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Thomas Gresham (circa 1518-1579), Founder of the Royal Exchange. Sitter associated with 23 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Gresham's clothing in this portrait is an exercise in restrained yet costly elegance. Scientific examination has revealed that the fingers on his right hand were lengthened during painting, perhaps in an attempt to make his grip on his purse appear more relaxed.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 158 Read entry

    Sir Thomas Gresham was a financier, diplomat and merchant of luxury goods. He played a vital part in the management of the Crown's finances by arranging loans at favourable rates as the queen's agent in Antwerp. He divided his time between London and Antwerp, and during his years in the Southern Netherlands he regularly supplied Elizabeth's privy council with invaluable information about political affairs, and also exported weapons and artworks to England. The death of his only son in 1564 spurred him to create the grand projects for which he is best remembered; these included the foundation of the Royal Exchange and the creation of Gresham College, both in London.

    Gresham's clothing in this portrait is an exercise in restrained yet costly elegance; black cloth was particularly expensive, and the long slashes in his jerkin reveal a gold-and-silver doublet beneath and a glimpse of a heavy gold chain. Gresham commissioned a number of portraits during his time in the Netherlands, following in the tradition of English merchants taking advantage of their access to skills that were not necessarily available in England. Gresham appears to have commissioned at least two identical versions of this portrait (National Portrait Gallery and Mercers' Company). These may have been requested by institutions with which he was associated, such as the Mercers' Company or the Corporation of London, but they may also have been intended for display at his houses, to stand in his stead during the long periods of his absence.

  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 133
  • Lucinda Hawksley, Moustaches, Whiskers and Beards, 2014, p. 28
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 44
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 39
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 264

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1565back to top

Current affairs

Mary, Queen of Scots marries her second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.
Sir Henry Sidney is appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Art and science

The Royal College of Physicians receives official permission to carry out human dissections.
The first recorded manufacture of lead pencils.


The Knights Hospitaller repel the forces of Suleiman I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the siege of Malta. Ottoman advances into Western Europe are halted and the celebrated admiral Turgut Reis is killed.
A Spanish expedition establishes the city of St Augustine in present-day Florida, the first permanent European settlement in North America.
The first Spanish settlement in Philippines is established at Cebu.

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Armando Ferreira

30 May 2019, 18:15

This portrait is from Dutch painter Anthonis Mor van Dashorst 1516-1576. No doubts about it. The perfection of the eyes, ears. The three-quarter view elegant and authoritarian pose of the sitter is very similar to other Mor's portraits, like King Philip II of Spain, and King John III of Portugal.

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