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Sir Henry Unton

1 portrait matching these criteria:

Sir Henry Unton, by Unknown artist, circa 1596 - NPG 710 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Henry Unton

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1596
29 1/8 in. x 64 1/4 in. (740 mm x 1632 mm)
Purchased, 1884
Primary Collection
NPG 710

On display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Henry Unton (circa 1558-1596), Soldier and diplomat. Sitter in 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This highly unusual narrative portrait of Unton's life was commissioned as a posthumous commemoration by his widow Dorothy Wroughton, and is recorded in her will (1634). At the heart of the composition is the portrait of Unton, flanked by figures of Fame (top left) and Death (top right), and surrounded by scenes from his life and death. These are (anti-clockwise, starting in the bottom right hand corner): 1. As an infant in the arms of his mother, Anne Seymour, formerly Countess of Warwick, at the Unton house of Ascott-under-Wychwood. 2. Studying at Oriel College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1573. 3. Travelling beyond the Alps to Venice and Padua (1570s). 4. Serving with Leicester in the Netherlands (1585-6), with Nijmegen in the distance. 5. On his embassy to Henry IV at Coucy La Fère in northwest France, in an unsuccessful attempt to avert a peace treaty between France and Spain (1595-6). 6 On his deathbed, with a physician sent by Henry IV. 7. His body brought back to England across the Channel in a black ship. 8. His hearse on its way back to his home at Wadley House, Faringdon, near Oxford. 9. (centre right) Unton's life at Wadley House, with scenes showing him sitting in his study (top), talking with learned divines (bottom left), making music (above left), and presiding over a banquet, while a masque of Mercury and Diana is performed, accompanied by musicians. From the house his funeral procession leads, past a group of the poor and lame lamenting his death, to : 10. (left) Faringdon Church with this funeral (8 July 1596) in progress, and, in the foreground, his monument with Unton's recumbent effigy and the kneeling figure of his widow. More detailed information about this portrait from the Making Art in Tudor Britain research project.

Linked publicationsback to top

Placesback to top

Events of 1596back to top

Current affairs

Fears of Spanish invasion of England and Ireland.
An expedition under Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Charles Howard, Baron Howard of Effingham sacks Cádiz, Spain.
Robert Cecil (later Earl of Salisbury) is made Secretary of State.
Sir Francis Drake dies from fever during an expedition to attack Spanish territories in the New World.

Art and science

The poet and administrator Edmund Spenser publishes the last three books of The Faerie Queene, an epic allegorical poem in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.
The unusual narrative portrait of the soldier and diplomat Henry Unton is commissioned by his widow.
The actor and theatre manager James Burbage builds Blackfriars Theatre, London.


Spanish forces capture Calais, France.
The Battle of Keresztes - Mehmed III, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire defeats the combined forces of Sigmund Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and Maximilian, Archduke of Austria.
Sigismund III of Poland transfers the capital of Poland from Kraków to Warsaw.

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07 October 2017, 23:23

The death ritual is an extended process, a rite of passage rather than a single moment or event. The Unton picture is not a portrait in the modern sense but it is a complex representation of Sir Henry Unton's life, his dying and his death. And, it illustrates how cultures construct meanings for death from combinations of religious teaching and personal experience...

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