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Thomas Whythorne (Whithorne)

Thomas Whythorne (Whithorne), by Unknown artist, 1571, published 1590 - NPG D8321 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Thomas Whythorne (Whithorne)

by Unknown artist
woodcut, 1571, published 1590
4 5/8 in. x 3 1/8 in. (117 mm x 78 mm) paper size
Given by the daughter of compiler William Fleming MD, Mary Elizabeth Stopford (née Fleming), 1931
Reference Collection
NPG D8321

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This simple woodcut was produced to accompany the sitter's songbook and also appeared in his second book Duos or Songes for Two Voices in 1590.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 131 Read entry

    Thomas Whithorne was a musician and composer who published the first English secular songbook, Songes for Three, Fower and Five Voyces (1571). His remarkable autobiography, which is one of the earliest in English, reveals his particular interest in portraiture. He commissioned his own likeness at least five times during his life and noted during a visit to a painter that older sitters seemed to commission portraits 'to see how time doth alter them'. Only one of his painted portraits survives and shows him at the age of 41 in 1569 (Beinecke Library, Yale University). Whithorne commissioned this woodcut portrait so that the 'outward marks of the man' could be seen in conjunction with his compositions; it was used in his songbook and in his second book, Duos or Songs for Two Voices (1590). Whithorne was from a minor Somerset gentry family and recorded in his biography that he wished his woodcut to incorporate elements of his family's coat of arms because 'although they have left me no great revenues to support and maintain them withal, yet thereby they have left me a remembrance that I am a free man born'. Whithorne travelled in Italy in his youth, and the Italian inscription beneath his portrait, Aspra ma non troppo ('Sharp but not too sharp') acts as a pun on both his name and the musical tone, while perhaps indicating his desire to be appreciated in the same manner as Italian musicians, a number of whom had found patronage at court.

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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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