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Sir Philip Sidney

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Philip Sidney

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1576
44 7/8 in. x 33 1/8 in. (1139 mm x 840 mm)
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, 1984
Primary Collection
NPG 5732

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), Soldier, statesman and poet. Sitter associated with 30 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6556 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In this skilful portrait Sidney is depicted in his 23rd year wearing a gorget, a piece of neck armour, and a doublet of white slashed leather. The Latin motto can be translated as 'Further fame from God' or perhaps 'The rest is fame'.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 2096: Sir Philip Sidney (source portrait)
  • NPG D41682: Sir Philip Sidney (source portrait)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 34
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 20
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 113 Read entry

    To many of his contemporaries Sir Philip Sidney – soldier, diplomat and author – represented the ideal Renaissance courtier. He is best known for his prose romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (published posthumously in 1590 and in a more complete edition in 1593) and the sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella (published posthumously in 1591), which was inspired by Penelope Devereux, the daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and contained pertinent advice for all writers: '“Fool”, said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”' Sidney's militant Protestantism was shaped in part by his personal experience of the St Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572, when he was forced to seek refuge at Sir Francis Walsingham's house in Paris; years later, he married Walsingham's daughter Frances. In the mid-1580s, Sidney travelled to the Netherlands serving under his uncle Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in the conflict with the Spanish. He was fatally wounded at the battle of Zutphen; his death occasioned an outpouring of elegies and a sumptuous funeral procession in London on 16 February 1587. This portrait shows Sidney as a young man, wearing a gorget (a piece of armour for the neck) and a white slashed doublet. The Latin motto can be translated as 'Further fame from God' or perhaps 'The rest is fame'. Just as Sidney's writing was far from the commercial milieu of playwrights, this portrait is shaped by the conventions of courtier portraits, with the intricate detailing of his clothing and the sword at his hip demonstrating his elite status.

  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 68
  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 21
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 210
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 34
  • Nicholl, Charles, Character Sketches: Elizabethan Writers, 1997, p. 28
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 54
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 61
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 565

Events of 1576back to top

Current affairs

Parliament presents Queen Elizabeth I with a petition complaining of ecclesiastical abuses.
The member of Parliament Peter Wentworth is imprisoned for attacking royal interference with Parliamentary freedom of speech.
The explorer and privateer Martin Frobisher sets out to find a Northwest passage to the Far East. He becomes the first European to visit Baffin Island, Canada.

Art and science

The actor and theatre manager James Burbage builds the Theatre, the first permanent playhouse in England, at Shoreditch, London.
The composer Thomas Whithorne writes the earliest known autobiography in English.


Pacification of Ghent - an alliance between the Protestant northern and Catholic southern provinces of the Netherlands to collectively fight for the expulsion of Spanish troops from their territories.
The Spanish army serving in the Low Countries mutinies and sacks the city of Antwerp.
Death of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II and succession of his son Rudolf II.

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