John Smith

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John Smith

by Simon de Passe
line engraving, 1616
11 5/8 in. x 13 5/8 in. (295 mm x 346 mm)
Transferred from National Portrait Gallery Reference Collection, 1967
Primary Collection
NPG 4594

On display in Room 3 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • John Smith (1580-1631), Soldier and colonist. Sitter in 3 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Simon de Passe (1595-1647), Engraver. Artist or producer associated with 200 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

A soldier and colonial governor, Smith sailed on the first English voyage to Virginia. Portraits frequently appeared alongside maps of territories discovered by explorers with inscriptions, as that noted here 'observed and described by Captayn John Smith, 1614'. This portrait, accompanied by a map of New England, shows him aged 37 in the year 1616 and may have been after a miniature.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 168 Read entry

    A soldier and colonial governor, John Smith sailed on the first fleet to Virginia, which made landfall in 1607. He was captured by the Powhatan and there met the chief's daughter Pocahontas, whose capture in 1613, after Smith's return to England, brought a halt to the first Anglo-Powhatan war. After a year in captivity, Pocahontas converted to Christianity; she was baptised with the name Rebecca and married the tobacco planter John Rolfe. Smith returned to Virginia to map the coastline in 1614, but it was not until 1616 that he saw Pocahontas again, when she was brought to London by the Virginia Company. She was received at court, but her health deteriorated; after boarding a ship to return home, she died in Gravesend in Kent. John Smith went on to write one of the earliest accounts of her life. These engravings were conceived by the Dutch artist Simon de Passe, who worked in London between 1616 and 1621. The composite image unites the first map of New England, which had been 'Observed and described by Captayn John Smith' during his travels in 1614, with a portrait of Smith that was made after his return to London. The inscription beneath Smith's portrait, which may derive from a miniature, begins: 'These are the Lines that shew thy Face; but those / That shew thy Grace and Glory, brighter bee'. Passe's portrait of Pocahontas was also produced in 1616, during her brief stay in England; she is depicted wearing the fashionable clothes of an English courtier, with a tall hat, lace collar, pearl earring and ostrich-feather fan.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 570

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1616back to top

Current affairs

Playwright, William Shakespeare, dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon on 23rd April, after he contracted a fever. He is buried days later inside Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
James I's second son, Charles, is invested as Prince of Wales at a lavish ceremony at Whitehall.

Art and science

Poet and playwright Benjamin Jonson, is granted a royal pension effectively establishing him as the first poet laureate in all but name.
Queen Anne commissions Inigo Jones to design a pavilion at Greenwich, the Queen's House.


Sir Walter Ralegh, released from prison, begins planning an expedition to Guiana in search of El Dorado. With established Spanish settlements in the area, Ralegh's expedition unsettled the court which sought lasting peace with Spain.
The Catholic Church places Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus, 1543, on its list of prohibited books.

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