Probably Sir Robert Dudley
1 portrait on display in Room 33 at the National Portrait Gallery
Probably Sir Robert Dudley
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1590s
18 1/8 in. x 14 5/8 in. (460 mm x 372 mm)
Sitterback to top
- Sir Robert Dudley (1574-1649), Mariner and landowner. Sitter associated with 2 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This painting was acquired by the Gallery in 1933 as a portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury (bap. 1581, d. 1613), the courtier and poet whose death in the Tower of London in 1613 lead to one of the most sensational scandals at court in the early seventeenth century. However, this identification was subsequently questioned as the sitter does not bear a close resemblance to the portrait of Overbury at the Bodleian Library, which was used as the source for near contemporary engravings of the sitter. The painting was therefore catalogued as ‘Unknown man, called Sir Thomas Overbury’ in Roy Strong’s 1969 catalogue of the Tudor and Jacobean portraits at the Galley.
The portrait remained catalogued in this way until new research was undertaken in 2010 by History of Art MA students from Bristol University in preparation for the ‘Imagined Lives’ display of portraits of unidentified sitters from the Gallery’s collection at Montacute House (National Trust). A reconsideration of the provenance of the portrait, which had been purchased from the collection of Viscount Dillon at Ditchley Park, raised the possibility that the portrait had been commissioned or acquired by the Elizabethan courtier Sir Henry Lee (1533-1611). Through this connection, Lee’s godson, Robert Dudley (1574-1649) – illegitimate son of Elizabeth I’s favourite Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3-1588) – became a prime candidate for the sitter’s lost identity. Cross-referencing the portrait with known portraits of Dudley showed that the sitter bears a striking resemblance to a portrait of Robert Dudley by Nicholas Hilliard, which is now in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.  In 1591 Dudley took part in his first ceremonial tilting tournament and also married Margaret Cavendish (d. 1595), and these events may have motivated the commission of his portrait. The panel painting has been cut down on three sides and was originally larger (perhaps showing both head and torso or even full length portrait).
Linked publicationsback to top
- Cooper, Tarnya, Searching for Shakespeare, 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 29 May 2006), p. 66
- Cooper, Tarnya, Searching for Shakespeare (hardback), 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 29 May 2006), p. 66
- Cooper, Tarnya (introduction) Banville, John (character sketch) Chevalier, Tracy (character sketch) Fellowes, Julian (character sketch) McCall Smith, Alexander (character sketch) Pratchett, Terry (character sketch) Singleton, Sarah (character sketch) Trollope, Joanna (character sketch) Waters, Minette (character sketch), Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from December 2011 - June 2012), p. 41
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 689
- Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 239
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People (3 December 2011 - 8 July 2012)
Events of 1590back to top
Current affairsKing James VI of Scotland brings his wife Anne of Denmark to Edinburgh for her coronation at Holyrood Abbey.
Death of Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary and spymaster.
The colonial governor John White returns to Roanoke Island (in present day North Carolina, USA) to find the settlement deserted. The lost colonists include his granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in America.
Art and scienceThe courtier, poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney's pastoral romance Arcadia is published posthumously. It is one of the first English vernacular works to achieve a European readership, with translations into French, German, Dutch and Italian.
The poet and administrator Edmund Spenser publishes the first three books of The Faerie Queene, an epic allegorical poem in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.
InternationalHenry IV of France defeats the Catholic League under Charles, Duke of Mayenne at the Battle of Ivry. The King marches on Paris before being driven back by Catholic forces sent by Philip II of Spain.
Abbas I, Shah of Persia makes peace with the Ottoman Empire, allowing him to campaign agaist the Uzbeks.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeats the Hojo clan at the Siege of Odawara, Japan. The victory completes Hideyoshi's military reunification of Japan.
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