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Bess of Hardwick

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Bess of Hardwick

by Unknown artist
oil on canvas, probably 17th century, based on a work of circa 1590
38 7/8 in. x 31 in. (988 mm x 787 mm)
Purchased, 1865
Primary Collection
NPG 203


An unusual Elizabethan-revival frame of 1865…

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

'Bess of Hardwick' is shown here in understated mourning dress, which is set off by the five-strand rope of pearls which she wears. The Elizabethan-style frame which incorporates the sitter's initials at the top was made in 1865 by the Gallery and is likely to be much more elaborate than the original.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 27 Read entry

    ‘Bess of Hardwick’ (c.1527-1608) was one of the richest people in late Elizabethan England, and an important patron of architecture. Bess came from a modest background, but rose to a position of power and moved in aristocratic and royal circles. She acquired her wealth through a succession of increasingly profitable marriages and through her own business acumen. Hardwick Hall, the country house she had built in Derbyshire to a plan by the Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson, was, according to an inventory of 1601, filled with a collection of paintings, furniture, silver, tapestries and embroidery. The nearby estate of Chatsworth was acquired during her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish, and was held in both their names. Following Sir William’s death, Bess continued to oversee the ambitious building project they had begun together.

  • Bennett, Sue, Five Centuries of Women and Gardens, 2000 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 October 2000 to 21 January 2001), p. 23
  • MacLeod, Catherine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, 1999, p. 23
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 563
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 112, 179 Read entry

    Carved pine, mitred and keyed, polished black with applied gilt ornaments, the projections on back edge added. 4 inches wide.

    This Elizabethan-revival frame of 1865 was conceived by George Scharf, Secretary and later Director of the National Portrait Gallery, in collaboration with Henry Critchfield, the Gallery's framemaker. It is an unusual instance of antiquarian framing by the Gallery in its early days.

    The picture is an early copy of the portrait of 'Bess of Hardwick' at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. It was acquired for the Gallery at the Trustees' meeting of 9 December 1865. Six days later Scharf noted in his diary that Critchfield 'came for ... further instructions about the Elizabethan frames'; the previous day Critchfield's man had come 'for two frames and for patterns for ornaments to the frame of Css of Shrewsbury'. The profile of the frame and the foliage at the corners suggests that it may be eighteenth century in origins. All the rest of the applied gilt ornament, including the ribbon-twist sight edge, the unusual 'Elizabethan' bosses, lozenges and diamonds and the 'ES' monogram and coronet, would appear to have been made by Critchfield to Scharf's order. His bill, dated 8 January 1866, described it as an 'Old Frame French Polished Black & Gold with additional ornaments carved & gilt', the cost being £3.10s.

    The result is quite different from the flat frames of Bess of Hardwick's day, as Scharf will have known since he was also commissioning much simpler 'Tudor' frames at this period (see NPG 2094). Scharf had visited Hardwick in October 1865, and stayed there for four days sketching the pictures. He noted that the Hardwick original of the Gallery's picture was in a 'plain black moulded frame'. His visit must have so stimulated his imagination, however, that he looked to Elizabethan architecture for inspiration rather than to early frames, probably turning to one of the many available pattern books as well as to his Hardwick sketchbook, which includes some architectural details and several 'ES' monograms of the sort crowning the frame.

  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 287

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Subjects & Themesback to top

Events of 1590back to top

Current affairs

King 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 science

The 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.


Henry 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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