Sir Thomas Coningsby
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Sir Thomas Coningsby
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1572
37 in. x 27 1/2 in. (940 mm x 699 mm)
The condition of this work makes it difficult to assess its authorship.
The portrait was first recorded at Coningsby’s family home of Hampton Court in Herefordshire in 1784, where it may have hung since it was painted. It was purchased by the Gallery from the 18th Viscount Hereford in 1964.
Coningsby is depicted swinging the lure for a falcon in his right hand. The fragmentary inscriptions in Latin and Italian are later additions but small areas of original paint are visible beneath restoration in the final few letters of ‘Indisiplinabile’ and ‘AE SVAE . 21’ on either side of the sitter’s head. It has been suggested that the town of Hereford features in the background, where Sir Thomas established Coningsby’s Hospital for old soldiers in 1614. Some details correlate, such as the position of the river in relation to the cathedral; however, the level of damage and reconstruction in this area means that it is impossible to substantiate.
Notes on attribution
The condition of the painting makes it very difficult to assess its authorship. However, the handling in the face and the inscription of the age and date bear comparison to the portrait identified as Lord Edward Russell (Woburn) that is dated 1573 and is also unattributed.
Justification for dating
Original paint can be seen beneath the inscription giving the sitter’s age as 21, and this correlates with the inscribed date of 1572 as the sitter was born on 9 October 1550. The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period; dendrochronological analysis confirmed that the tree used for the panel was felled after 1569.
The panel has several repaired splits and the paint surface is generally very damaged and abraded, with numerous filled and restored paint losses. Many details, including the lettering, have been strengthened with restoration. The bird was exposed during conservation treatment when a non-original bird, which had apparently been painted over cracks in the original paint in the sky, was removed.
The poor condition of the original paint makes a clear interpretation of the painting methods highly problematic but it is evident that the paint layers were applied thinly over the pale priming. The pigment mixtures appear subtly managed; for example, careful variations were used in the black and brown passages. Two different blue pigments, indigo and smalt, were used in the sky. The smalt in the lighter part has almost entirely faded, but it seems that the blue in this area was originally more intense, but cooler in tone than the indigo blue used above it. There appear to be remnants of copper green glaze in the foreground, which suggests that the grass was originally a deeper, richer green. The sun on the horizon, with strong use of lead-tin yellow, is one of the best preserved areas of the paint surface.
Drawing and transfer technique
No underdrawing was detected during surface examination or using infrared reflectography.
Other known versions
There are no other known versions of this portrait.
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, 1969, pp. 49-50
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The panel has several repaired splits. The paint surface is generally very damaged with paint losses and abrasion. The surface is uneven with numerous filled and restored paint losses. Many details, including the lettering, have been strengthened with restoration. Some parts of the overpaint and restoration were not removed when the painting was restored in 1975, partly due to the loss of original paint beneath, but also due to being insoluble and difficult to remove. The bird was exposed during the last restoration when another bird was removed that was apparently painted over cracks in the original sky paint and was not original. The varnish is even and glossy.
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
There are several old repaired splits in the panel. There are several major splits: In the right board (seen from the back) a split runs down through the face (290 mm) from the top and another (440 mm) runs up from the lower edge through the proper left hand. In the left board a split runs down (450 mm) from the top through the bird, lure and sky, and another split runs up from the lower edge (400 mm) through the costume. Part of the right board (seen from the back) has evidently split apart in the past and has been reattached with animal glue. A 'butterfly' button across this split has been removed and the space filled with sawdust and glue mixture. On the back of the panel there are two wooden 'butterfly' buttons, one glued to the back of the split through the face, and the other is glued to the back of the split running up through the costume. The lower edge of the splits in the lower part of the panel are repaired with a small inset of hardboard. A space left at the top of the panel join, left where an inset was removed, is filled with sawdust and glue mixture. The whole panel is filled at the back with the same sawdust and glue mixture. Vertical strips of black paint remain on the back. The entire back of the panel has been coated with saran resin to act as a moisture barrier.
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: 2
Last date of tree ring: 1563
The panel is made with two boards labelled A and B (from the front) for analysis. Their appearance is very similar and there are large, slightly angled saw marks on the back. The strong match in the ring sequence indicates that they are derived from the same tree. Both boards were found to retain sapwood at their outermost edges, which is at the panel join. A sequence of 161 rings was obtained from a combination of the upper and lower edges of board A, and a short outermost sequence from the lower edge of Board B. The last ring on board B dated to 1563 and this series included 2 sapwood rings. Adding the minimum and maximum expected number of sapwood rings to this suggests that these two boards were derived from a tree felled between 1569 and 1585. The board widths are typical for eastern Baltic boards which suggests that they are unlikely to have been trimmed significantly. The presence of sapwood makes it unnecessary to apply the eastern Baltic LEHR -usage range in order to refine the felling date range.
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 considerable areas of paint loss are evident in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). Vertical areas of dark paint (probably black lead) on the back of the panel appear in x-ray as dense opaque areas, skimmed over the wood grain; these obscure some of the detail on the paint surface in the x-ray image. Filled nail holes can be seen round the edges.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
No underdrawing was detected using infrared reflectography; the lines visible around the features appear to be in the paint surface (see IRR mosaic 03). The considerable paint loss is evident.
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 January 2011.
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground which contains a very small proportion of carbon black particles. Above the ground there is a very pale grey priming layer made with lead white and occasional small particles of carbon black.
Analysis indicates that the sky is painted over the priming with a pale blue paint layer. For darker areas in the sky a deep blue upper layer was applied over the pale blue layer.
Sample 2: Cross-section shows all these layers. The pale blue layer is a mixture of lead white, carbon black and a little indigo. The deep blue upper layer is composed with the same mixture but the proportion of indigo is higher.
Buildings, right edge
Sample 9: Cross-section shows the chalk ground, the pale grey priming and the pale blue layer over the priming. The blue mixture is similar to the sky paint, made with lead white, carbon black and indigo. There are a couple of greenish blue particles which might be malachite.
Green grass and foliage, left side
Sample 1: Cross-section shows the green paint layer made with a mixture of malachite, lead-tin yellow, black, and a little yellow ochre. The deeper green most likely has an additional layer of a copper green glaze.
A dispersion was made of a lead-tin yellow particle. Two dispersions were made of malachite particles.
Sample 10: Shows the grey priming, the thick bright reddish brown underlayer for the costume paint and the dark brown layer over it. The underlayer consists of large red lake particles in a matrix of vermilion, with some particles of carbon black and a bright yellow. The upper layer is thinner and contains earth pigments, carbon black and a yellow pigment (yellow ochre or lead-tin yellow).
Sample 5: Cross-section from the green lure shows the chalk ground, the grey priming, and a green opaque underlayer that is similar to that used in the grass with regular shaped bluish green malachite particles, most likely mixed with lead-tin yellow. A thick layer of rich copper green glaze, with a little black, lies over the opaque green layer.
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
During the 1975 treatment, a heavily abraded original paint surface was revealed beneath extensive restoration. Much of the old restoration was left on the surface as it was difficult to remove and areas of abraded original paint were then reintegrated with modern restoration. The poor condition of the original paint surface makes a clear interpretation of the layer structure, paint handling and style highly problematic (see raking 01).
The panel was prepared with a single layer of white chalk ground and a pale lead-based priming layer, containing lead white and a little black was broadly applied above this. No underdrawing was detected using infrared reflectography or during the surface examination.
The flesh paint appears to have been applied in a single, thin layer directly above the priming; it is heavily restored over abrasion and paint loss.
The eyes are very heavily restored. They appear to have been defined using a medium-rich dark brown, composed of charcoal black, red (probably vermilion) and some earth pigment. The blue irises were then painted using a mixture of lead white, azurite, black and red lead, before the pupil was applied using the same mixture with a higher proportion of black. The whites of the eyes appear to have been painted using lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, and a little red lake, azurite and yellow ochre (see micro 01).
Some original paint survives in the lips (see micro 03). They appear to have been defined using a deep rose coloured paint mixture, composed of red lake, charcoal black and a little opaque red pigment (probably vermilion).
The hair was thinly laid in using a medium-rich brown, directly above the priming. The brown paint mixture appears to contain black, earth pigments, vermilion and red lake. This layer has a distinctive, heavy craquelure and has been heavily restored. Above this, the curls were applied by adding a little white for the highlights and black for the shadows. The general outline of the hair was achieved by painting over the edge of the sky paint using multi-directional brushstrokes (see micro 05).
It appears that the hat was first underpainted with a thin layer of red lake glaze with some black and possibly earth pigment added. Above, a layer of black paint, with the addition of a little red (probably vermilion) was applied. Much of the black layer has suffered significant abrasion and has been restored. Above the black hat, the jewels were painted using fine, soft brushstrokes of lead-tin yellow, with a little black mixed in and lead white added for highlights.
The doublet and sleeves are painted with a mixed brown over a reddish brown underlayer composed mostly of vermilion, with red lake, carbon black and a bright yellow. The brown paint mixture appears to be composed of red earth, black, red lake and perhaps some earth pigment. The buttons, embroidery detail and slashes were then applied above (see micro 18). The embroidery detail was achieved using fine brushstrokes of lead-tin yellow, with a little black added in areas of highlight. In areas of adjacent shadow, red lead was added (see micro 14).
Ruff and cuffs
The highlights and folds of the ruff and cuff appear to have been painted first. Areas of shadow, composed of lead white and charcoal black, were then applied above, followed by the lace detail and strong highlights which were painted at a later stage (see micro 04).
The hands are severely damaged and very little original paint remains (see micro 19 and micro 20).
The sky and landscape have suffered extensive abrasion and are heavily restored. In areas where the original paint is visible on the surface, the sky and blue buildings were thinly painted with a pale blue layer above the priming with a deeper blue layer applied over the pale blue layer for the darker parts(see micro 06 and micro 07). The deep blue paint is a mixture of indigo, black and white (see micro 08). In the lighter areas of sky, the paint mixture is composed of lead white, black and a lower proportion of indigo than the darker parts. There are very few blue particles visible on the surface of the paler parts of sky, which suggests some fading, and they were more probably more blue than they appear currently, but cooler in tone than the indigo-rich blue seen above. The sun on the horizon was applied using relatively thick paint, above the pale sky (see micro 21 and micro 22). The yellow paint has the appearance of lead-tin yellow, mixed with some yellow ochre and a little red, black and lead white.
The green grass in the foreground appears to be composed of a mixture of malachite, with lead-tin yellow, black and a little yellow ochre. As the original paint is heavily abraded, and there is a thick varnish layer on the surface, it was difficult to examine the paint clearly. Despite this, remnants of a copper green glaze are visible above the existing green foreground, suggesting that the grass would have originally been a deeper, richer green.
Bird in upper left
Despite the level of abrasion and restoration visible, remnants of original paint can be seen here. Lead-tin yellow was clearly used for the bright beak and eye of the bird, and the body and feathers were smoothly blended with earth colours, black and lead white (see micro 11 and micro 12). What remains of the original paint is very fragmentary and heavily restored. Photographs taken prior to cleaning in 1975 have revealed that at some stage, a large dark bird was painted to the right of the existing original bird. This was removed during cleaning, although remnants of the non-original black paint can be seen above the sky (and beneath restoration) in this area (see micro 15).
As with most areas, the lure has been significantly restored. The green part of the lure was painted with an underlayer containing malachite, black, lead-tin yellow and yellow ochre, applied directly above the priming. A thicker layer of copper green glaze, with a little black was applied above this.
Remnants of early paint, which may be original, can be seen only in the line 'AE SVAE . 21' on the right (see micro 10). No original or early paint could be seen beneath the modern restoration in the date or the inscription beneath it. No original paint was observed in the inscription along the upper edge of the panel above the sitter's head. However, some original or early paint was visible beneath restoration in the final few letters of 'Indisiplinabile' on the left-hand side. From what can be seen using surface microscopy, it seem that the lines 'Indisiplinabile' and 'AE SVAE . 21' to the left and right of the head are original, although heavily abraded and restored.
Order of Construction
- Chalk ground
- Lead white based priming
- Flesh and hair laid in
- Ruff and cuffs
- Bird's hood
- Hair finished
- Thumb on the hand on the right painted over bird's hood
- Jewel detail and slashes on costume
Lead white, charcoal black, earth pigments, lead-tin yellow, yellow ochre, red lead, vermilion, red lake, copper green glaze, malachite, indigo
Changes in composition/pentimenti
During the painting process, it appears that the position of the thumb on the hand on the right was altered, although the original positioning is unclear. This thumb was painted over the bird's hood, whereas the flesh in the hands appears to have been painted over a reserve.
The original paint surface has suffered extensive abrasion and paint loss. The damage has occurred throughout, although is particularly apparent in areas surrounding the panel splits and join.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
There are considerable areas of restoration which appear dark in ultra violet light (see UV 01). Restoration can be seen on the panel splits, on areas with extensive paint loss, such as the hands and the landscape, and areas with extensive wear. Due to the damaged condition of the original paint, old overpaint was left on the face and hands during the 1974 restoration. The lettering is considerably restored and strengthened. The surface appears opaque, due probably to residues of old varnish, apart from an area on the left side (with the lower part of the lure, landscape and upper edge of the sleeve on the left) where the surface does not appear opaque.