William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

1 portrait on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

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Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, 1560s
37 1/2 in. x 28 1/4 in. (953 mm x 718 mm)
NPG 2184


Key findings: It is evident that a pattern was used for the portrait.

Historical summary
This portrait was purchased by the Gallery in 1928, where it was sold at Christie’s as ‘Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hundson’ on 19 March (lot 122). Previously in the collection of Miss M. Thompson of Tankerton, Kent, who inherited it from her father. A portrait of Cecil bearing the same inscription was recorded by Thomas Hearne at Ditchley in 1718 (Strong, 1969, p. 28).

The inscription reads: ‘VOTA DEI OBSERVANS CECILI PATRIAEQ SECVNDANS / VIVE PIE SOLUVS VIVE DIV VT MERITVS’ (Do God’s will, Cecil, give thy country succour strong, Live pious as thy wont is; live, as thy need is, long’, translation by Sir Charles Holmes, recorded in Description of Portraits submitted for Inspection, Volume 15, no. 5).

There are three main types of portrait of Burghley, all of which date from the last twenty-five years of his life. The earliest version of this first type is in the collection of the Marquess of Salisbury at Hatfield and can be dated to just before 1558 because it shows him without the white rod of office of the Secretaryship of State (Strong, 1969, p. 31).

Notes on likely authorship and justification
The inscription ’15 AB 73’ on another version of this portrait at Hatfield has led to it being identified as the work of Arnold van Bronckorst (Auerbach, 1961, pp. 267-8). However, stylistically it is very unlike the only known signed work by Bronckorst (NPG 6919). Furthermore, the earliest record of Bronckhorst in England is in 1565/6, and it is therefore unlikely that he was the originator of this portrait type since, as noted above, the earliest version of the portrait can be dated to just before 1558. The handling indicates that the painting is by a skilled Anglo-Netherlandish artist.

Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting technique follows an orderly and simple system and appears to have been executed quite rapidly. The paint layers were thinly applied, especially in the face and hands. There are finely painted details in the features, costume and the column. The surface texture on the architectural features in the background was skilfully created with varied techniques: the texture on the grey/brown stone pilaster appears to have been made by dabbing the paint when wet, probably with a cloth, and fine lines were also lightly scored into the thin paint before it had dried. The detail at the base of the column was applied wet-in-wet with fine dragging and combing to texture the details.

Some small changes in details were made during painting. For example, abrasion has exposed the first brushstrokes for a button between the third and fourth button on the left edge of the collar, the white rod of office was made narrower when the last black costume layers were applied, and the fingers and outline of the hands were changed a little after the black costume was painted.

Justification for dating
NPG 2184 has been dated to between 1560 and 1570, after Burghley became Secretary of State (he is seen with the white rod) but before he became a Knight of the Garter. Dendrochronological analysis provides a felling date range of 1566-1582 for the wood used in the panel.

Drawing and transfer technique
It is evident that a pattern was used for the portrait.

Relevance to other known versions
More contemporary portraits exist of Burghley than any other Elizabethan, apart from the queen (Strong, 1969, p. 30). However, the majority derive from the same pattern used here and variations of the portrait type used for NPG 2184 were reproduced until the end of Burghley’s life. In some he has grey or white hair.

- the earliest known version is in the collection of the Marquess of Salisbury at Hatfield. It probably descended directly from the sitter via his son Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (unsigned). This work had lost its identity by 1832 when it was engraved as Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick by Ryall (for Lodge); other versions assumed the names of the 1st Lord Hunsdon and the 3rd Duke of Somerset.
- three-quarter length version, also at Hatfield, showing both staff and KG insignia, and bearing the date 1573 and the monogram AB (there could have been numerous artists with these initials. For example, the Returns of Aliens from 1571 list Andreas Beale and Adrian Beene, both of whom were artists from the Netherlands residing in London).

Other versions:
- Parham Park, Sussex
- bought by Del Guidici from Christie’s on 18 November 1960 (lot 40). Previously in the collection of E. C. Howell.
- Badminton collection
- Lord Sackville’s collection at Knole House, NT 129745
- Croft Castle, NT 537580
- Dunham Massey, NT 932356
- at Christie’s, 12 October 1945. Previously Lord North collection.
- at Sotheby’s, 28 July 1976
- at Sotheby’s, 27 May 1987
- at Sotheby’s, 30 June 2005
- at Sotheby’s, September 2006
- St John’s College, University of Cambridge, 63
- Old Schools, University of Cambridge, 10

Auerbach, Erna, Nicholas Hilliard, 1961, pp. 265-71
Kirk, Richard and Ernest, eds., ‘Returns of aliens dwelling in the city and suburbs of London from the reign of Henry VIII to that of James I’, Huguenot Society of London, vol. 10, 1900-08
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.28-33
Description of Portraits submitted for Inspection, Volume 15, Heinz Archive, NPG 87/15


IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
IRR mosaic 03. Infrared reflectogram moasic o…
Micro 01. Detail of the eye on the left (7.1…
Micro 03. Detail of the edge of the ear, the…
Micro 04. Detail of the lips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 05. Detail of the beard and costume (7.…
Micro 08. Detail of the cuff on the hand on t…
Micro 09. Detail of a jewel on the costume (7…
Micro 10. Detail of the sword hilt (7.1 x mag…
Micro 14. Detail of the inscription (7.1 x ma…
Micro 15. Detail of the background drapery (7…
Micro 16. Detail of the background drapery (7…
Micro 17. Detail of the fingers on the hand o…
Micro 18. Detail of the base of the column (7…
Micro 19. Detail of the pigment mixture in th…
Micro 20. Detail of the pigment mixture in th…
Micro 22. Detail of pentiment at the edge of…
Micro 23. Detail of the base of the column at…

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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.

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The joins have been repaired (see x-ray mosaic 01). The paint losses are filled and restored. The restoration is well matched and the varnish is even and semi-glossy.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 3

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel has a convex warp. The panel members appear to have been rejoined and there is a slight misalignment in the left join in the forehead at the edge of the hat and also in the right join near the point of a fold in the green background drapery. The panel has been thinned a little and this has exposed old worm channels at the back. Rectangular wood buttons are glued at intervals at the back, across the joins. The woodworm channels at the back of the right hand member have weakened the panel, especially at the bottom right (seen from the front). During the most recent conservation treatment, the right side join was repaired and the worm channels filled, and a split at the lower edge of the right board was repaired. Wood has been lost at the lower-left corner of the left board.

Dendrochronology (what's this? )


An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.

Number of boards: 3

Last date of tree ring: 1559


For the purposes of analysis the three boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front). The central board B contained a trace of sapwood on the lower-left edge, which means that a felling date range can be applied to the panel. Board C contained too few rings for analysis. Comparison of the two measured sequences showed that they matched strongly and undoubtedly derive from the same tree. The sapwood ring in board B was dated to 1559. Adding the minimum and maximum expected number of sapwood rings to this suggests that Boards A and B derive from a tree that was felled between 1566 and 1582. Boards A and B are both 295 mm wide which is within the typical range for Baltic boards. This suggests that there is little chance that these boards were significantly trimmed prior to use. The presence of sapwood means that it is not necessary to apply an eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR-usage range to this panel.

X-radiography (what's this? )


A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.

The panel wood grain, and the losses and repairs along the joins (with wood buttons and fillets) can be seen clearly in x-ray. The details which contain lead-based pigment are also clearly visible (see x-ray mosaic 01). The pentimenti in the hands and the white rod of office can be seen very clearly and the grey pattern, containing lead white, on the black costume is clearly visible. The painting of the buttons is interesting because most of the finely painted, lead-based detail on the buttons can be seen in x-ray but the pentimento button between the third and fourth button on the edge of the collar on the left is barely visible. The lead-based highlights had not been applied before this was painted over. However, the paint mixture for the underlayer of the buttons evidently contains some x-ray opaque pigments, such as vermilion, as they can be seen faintly in x-ray. The three buttons on the edge of the collar on the right are also barely visible in x-ray and must be painted with a similar pigment mixture. These were not painted with the strong lead-based highlights noted on the majority of the buttons. The pentimento for a gold edge to the cuff on the arm on the right is not visible in x-ray.

Infrared reflectography (what's this? )

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

Using infrared reflectography some simple black underdrawing made with a liquid medium and brush, can be seen in the face, evidently made with a pattern (see IRR mosaic 01). Some fine dots can be seen along the underdrawn lines in the face, which may relate to the transfer method of pouncing. Some freehand marks can be see in the hands. Infrared reflectography shows a reserve was left for the hands when the costume was painted; the flesh in the hands was then painted beyond the initial reserve (see IRR mosaic 03).

Paint sampling (what's this? )

Paint Samplingclose

Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.

Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in February 2010. Further samples were taken by Klaas Jan van den Berg (RCE) for medium analysis.

Preparation layers
Sample 12: There is a thick chalk ground and a pale priming layer. Numerous lead soaps that were observed overall, particularly in the background and costume, may relate to the lead white in the priming.

Flesh and hair
The flesh is painted with a mixture of lead white, vermilion, occasional black particles (probably charcoal). Brown lines which define the eyes contain a little black and strong red lake and small particles of vermilion. The whites of the eyes contain smalt.
Sample 7: The paint mixture in the moustache and beard contains red lake, and red and yellow ochres.

Black costume
Samples 5, 8 and 9: The black paint appears to have been applied in two or more layers. The darkest black contains lamp black and there also appears to be some plant black, lamp black and some red and yellow pigments. In the cross-section of sample 5, the chalk ground is visible and there is a yellow translucent layer beneath the black layers, but no priming. The sample was taken from the edge of the painting which would explain the absence of the priming layer, which probably did not extend right to the edge.

Collar and cuffs
Sample 6: Fine lead white particles with some chalk.

Gold buttons and sword hilt
The gold details appear to include two types of lead-tin yellow. The paint mixtures also contain some red pigment (red ochre or red lead) and possibly some yellow ochre, and lead white for the lightest parts.
Sample 14: Dispersion of dull yellow underneath the light detail appears to contain lead white and yellow ochre with a little ground glass or smalt (silicaceous material) and a little red lake, but does not appear to include lead-tin yellow.

Sample 12: The paint mixture for the gold edging on the curtain appears to be painted with a mixture of two types of yellow, a bright lead-tin yellow (glass-like form) and a duller yellow (rounded particles), which is possibly also lead-tin yellow.
Sample 11: The green curtain is painted with a rich copper green glaze over an opaque underlayer of grey tones (lead white and lamp black mixtures). The pale highlights in the lower layer are probably painted with lead white only. The green glaze included red and yellow (probably lead-tin yellow) pigments.

Background and grey/brown architectural feature
Samples 2, 3 and 15: The paint mixtures in these areas contain the same pigments in different proportions in order to vary the tone: finely ground lamp black, lead white, some yellow ochre, and good quality red ochre or possibly haematite.

The inscription is executed with medium-rich paint with quite a fluid consistency.

Marble column
Sample 1: The column is painted with similar pigment mixtures to the grey/brown architectural feature. The orange/red contains finely ground red ochre and some yellow ochre (with some rod-like particles. Lead white and lamp black were also used on the column.

Surface examination (what's this? )

Surface Examinationclose

An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.

Painting style and method
A pattern was used for the portrait and the technique follows an orderly and simple system, and appears to have been executed quite rapidly. The paint is thinly applied, especially in the face, beard and hands. There are fine details in the features and costume. The panel was evidently held within a framework when the final paint layers were applied. This can be seen in the upper right at the edge of the green background drapery and in the base of the column. Slight lines are impressed into parts of the paint surface around the edges, probably caused by the framework pressing into the paint before it had dried.
Numerous lead soaps are visible in the paint surface, especially in the black costume.

Preparation layers
The panel is prepared with a chalk ground and then the pale lead-based priming was applied thinly.

There is some simple black underdrawing, with some fine dots on the drawing on the face which may relate to pattern transfer with pouncing (see Infrared reflectography).

The first paint layer of the flesh was very thinly applied and the pale priming can be seen in most parts. Black underdrawing can be seen in normal light beneath the thin paint layers in the principal features. The pink modelling layer, mixed with lead white, vermilion and some black (see micro 20), on the cheeks, nose, forehead and ears, is more thickly applied than the first layer. The transition between the more thinly painted parts and the thicker modelling layer has been exaggerated a little by increased transparency in the thinly painted layers, as well as by abrasion. The features are thinly painted with a fine brush (see micro 03). The line between the lips is simply painted with a single brushstroke of red lake (see micro 04).

The initial beard hairs were painted with brushstrokes brought up from the costume paint into the beard reserve; this is a Netherlandish method which can be compared with the portrait of Willam Paget (NPG 961). The priming layer can be seen beneath the thin paint in most parts of the beard and this gives depth and luminosity to the painting, as in the portrait of Paget. The fine white beard and moustache hairs were applied at the end of the painting process, after the final paint layers on the black costume (see micro 05).

The eyes are painted with fine detail, with a straightforward method (see micro 01). The whites of the eyes are mixed with smalt.

The preliminary layer of flesh paint was thinly applied and the pale priming can be seen in many parts, in the same way as in the face. The thicker, pink modelling layer was applied over the first thin layer. On both hands the transition between the edges of the thicker modelling layer and the parts without the modelling has been exaggerated by the increased transparency in the thin paint layer and by abrasion, in a similar way to the face. The transition appears particularly abrupt along the knuckles on the hand on the right. A predominantly white paint mixture was used for the highlight detail of the knuckles, the veins on the back of the hand on the left, and the fingernails. The hands were finished after the final layers of the black costume were applied. The fingertips on the hand on the right were painted into the edge of the black paint before it had dried (see micro 17). The edges of these areas appear rather grey where the flesh paint covers black paint and has become more transparent with time. Fine brown lines were painted between the fingers.

The first layer of black paint was painted to the edge of the reserve left for the hands and beard. Further layers were applied after the flesh paint and the rod of office were painted. The white rod was made narrower by painting over the right side with black costume paint. The grey pattern detail on the costume was painted before the buttons were applied. The pattern and highlights on the folds were painted with a mid-grey mixture and highlights added over these with a lighter grey mixture.

The black hat was painted in the same way as the costume and the paint layers were applied in the same order. The line of the edges was changed slightly where the reddish brown background paint overlaps the black paint, and the forehead was raised slightly where the final flesh layer of paint overlaps the black hat paint.

Cuffs and collar
The thin grey underlayer for the cuffs was painted over the edges of the first flesh paint layer. The grey layer was modelled with a thin lead white mixture. The white ruffle edge was painted with simple brushstrokes following a continuous 'S' pattern, and the small black dots were applied systematically with a fine brush tip (see micro 08). The white collar is painted with a similar method to the cuffs. In raking light, a line of curves can be seen on the black paint near the cuff on the right. It is evident that cuffs with gold edges were planned initially for the black costume, but then painted out thinly with black costume paint. Some yellow curves were exposed during conservation when old restoration was removed from the abraded black paint. The curves are not visible in x-ray; the paint contains no lead-based pigments and no lead-tin yellow detail had been applied before they were painted out.

Gold buttons, sword hilt and belt
The buttons were painted onto the costume before the black paint had dried completely (see micro 09). Abrasion in the black costume exposed a gold edge, probably a pentiment for a button (viewed sideways), between the third and fourth button down the left edge of the collar. This was painted out during recent conservation.

The first paint details for the buttons, sword hilt and belt were painted with mixture of yellow ochre, lead white, some red lake, and some glass or smalt. The highlights are painted with lead-tin yellow (possibly two types), some red, and lead white, with some dark grey detail (see micro 10), (See Paint sampling and X-ray).

Rod of office
The white rod was applied over part of the first flesh paint layer on the hand on the left and it was wider when first painted. It is painted with a mixture of lead white, black, azurite and some red pigment particles. It was made narrower when the final layers of the black costume were applied and shortly after the final details of the flesh paint and cuffs were applied. The decision to make the rod narrower was evidently made soon after the white ruffle detail was painted (see micro 22). In raking light the initial width of the white rod can be seen in the black paint along the right edge. There is a local craquelure in this paint surface where the width of the rod was altered (see micro 19).

Background and inscription
The reddish brown background was applied after the hat and costume were painted. The paint is mixed with red earth, yellow ochre, lamp black and lead white, and was applied rapidly with a fairly broad brush over the pale priming. The inscription was painted with quite fluid medium-rich paint, containing lead-tin yellow and lead white, at the end of the painting process (see micro 15).

Background drapery
The drapery has an underlayer of opaque grey modelling with some lead white highlights. The green glaze was applied over the underlayer (see micro 16), and can be seen at the top edge where the green glaze was not painted up to the edge. Undissolved verdigris can be seen in the green glaze. At the top-right edge it can be seen that the final glaze layer was applied when the edge of the panel was held in a framework. Simple gold lines along the edges of the drapery were painted last, with a mixture which appears to contain two types of lead-tin yellow (possibly yellow ochre), lead white, some black and some red lake.

Column and grey/brown architectural feature
The colours on the marble column were applied thinly with a fairly broad brush (see micro 14). The paint contains red and yellow ochre, with lamp black and lead white. The pale priming layer can be seen beneath the thin paint layer. There are numerous brush/plant fibre bristle ends caught in the surface of the paint. White veins were applied with a fine brush. White vertical highlights were painted last. Part of a finger print in black paint (probably a smudge of black costume paint) can be seen at the lower edge of the column, with fine white marble veins painted over it.

The carved detail on the grey base of the column was applied last, when the panel had been placed in a framework (see micro 23). The fine final detail was applied wet-in-wet to the grey paint, with some fine dragging and combing to texture the details. The rectangular red support below the column base is textured with white brushmarks to describe the stone (see micro 18). The red paint mixture contains some particles of red lake.

The architectural feature to the right of the column is painted with a thin light brown layer, applied over a thicker lighter layer. The surface texture of the darker part of the feature, where the thin light brown layer has formed into small rings, suggests that the paint may have been dabbed when wet in order to create the appearance of stone. However, as the thin brown layer appears to have been applied over the lighter underlayer when it was still wet, the surface texture may have developed when the paint layers were drying. Surface texture detail was made by lightly scoring small fine lines into the thin paint before it had dried.

Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Priming
- Underdrawing
- Thin flesh layer painted onto reserves
- First paint layer for black costume, although this may have been applied before the first flesh layer
- Black and white underlayer for green background drapery seems to have been applied at this stage
- Pink modelling on flesh paint
- White rod of office painted onto reserve
- Further paint layers on black costume, painted over the right edge of the white rod to make it narrower
- Further flesh paint applied wet-in-wet where the edges of the fingers extend over the black costume edges of the reserves left for the hands
- Grey underlayer for cuffs applied
- White cuff details applied at the same time as the change in the width of the rod of office
- Grey pattern painted onto the black costume
- Buttons, sword hilt and belt applied
- Brown background, column and other architecture detail
- Panel held in a framework at this stage
- Green curtain glaze applied after the brown background
- Final fine details applied at the end of the painting process, such as the white beard hairs, white eyebrows, fine brown lines at the edge of the face, the white highlights on the column and the detail on the column base
- The inscription was probably applied last

Lamp black, possibly plant black, possibly charcoal black, lead white, earth pigments, red ochre, yellow ochre, lead-tin yellow (possibly two types), vermilion, red lake, copper green glaze, smalt, azurite

Changes in composition/pentimenti
The white rod was made narrower and moved a little to the left. Abrasion exposed a gold edge between the third and fourth button on the left edge of the collar which may be a button which was painted out. Abrasion also exposed the line of gold-coloured curves at the edge of the cuff on the right, outside the white ruffled cuff. These curves can be seen in raking light also. The edges of the hat were slightly altered where the reddish brown background paint slightly overlaps the black paint. The forehead was slightly raised where flesh paint slightly overlaps the black paint along the brow line.

Restoration observations
The restoration in the losses down the joins is well matched (see UV 01). The flesh paint, particularly in the hands, and the black costume are both a little abraded but otherwise the paint surface is in reasonably good condition.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

There are remnants of an old resinous varnish located mainly at the bottom of the painting which fluoresce green and show that the painting has been carefully cleaned in the past (see UV 01). There are small scattered retouchings throughout, located mainly along the panel joins. The little finger of the hand on the right has been strengthened with restoration where the flesh paint has become more transparent over the black paint beneath.


Frame type: Not original. Tudor style.

Frame date: 20th Century.