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Sir Charles Cornwallis

1 of 7 portraits by Robert Peake the Elder

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Sir Charles Cornwallis

by Robert Peake the Elder, and studio of Robert Peake the Elder
oil on panel, circa 1610
44 1/2 in. x 32 3/4 in. (1130 mm x 832 mm)
NPG 4867


The painting can be associated with the studio of Robert Peake the Elder and is the work of more than one artist.

This portrait probably passed to Sir Charles Cornwallis’s daughter Dorothy, who married Sir William Fytche of Garnets, Essex, and passed by descent in the Fytche family. The Gallery purchased it from Dr W. Katz in 1972.

Historical context
Cornwallis is depicted holding his white rod of office as Treasurer. The inscription, which dates from the late seventeenth century, refers to his activities as ambassador to Spain (from 1604), as treasurer to Prince Henry’s household (1610-12), and to the marriage of his daughter to Sir William Ftyche.

Notes on attribution
The skilful painting technique in the costume is characteristic of works attributed to Robert Peake the Elder. The face is abraded, but it appears to have been weakly executed, and is probably the work of a studio assistant.

Justification for dating
The portrait is likely to have been painted between Cornwallis’s appointment as Treasurer of the Household to Prince Henry in 1610 and his loss of the post after Henry’s death in 1612. The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period; dendrochonological analysis suggests that the tree used to make the wooden panel support was felled after 1597.

The paint layer is in a good condition with relatively few areas of paint loss, apart from the lower and right-hand edge. The painting underwent a full treatment in 2012.

Painting technique
The paint was very thinly applied and the technique is economical, with fine brushwork and blending. The quality of the painting handling in the costume is particularly notable. There is an interesting use of grey paint mixtures, with different pigments used in each of the three primary grey passages: the ruff, sleeves and undershirt. As there is little tonal variation between these passages it suggests that the work was carried out by different artists. The underlayers were painted first and the details finely applied over these, it seems that the finishing details were applied concurrently. The flesh does not appear to be painted by the same hand as the costume.

Drawing and transfer technique
The composition appears to have been laid out using different methods and materials in different areas. No underdrawing was detected in the face during surface examination or using infrared reflectography but the similarity to other versions of the portrait, and the fact that it appears to have been executed by a studio assistant, suggest that a pattern was used. The hand on the left was drawn with short marks that appear almost freehand, whilst the hand on the right seems to have been drawn in paint, without any evident underdrawing.

Other known versions
Two variants of the portrait are known:
- Black clothing, Christie’s June 1934, lot 8 (formerly the Collection of Sir Somerville Gurney, North Runcton Hall, Norfolk)
- With hat, Christie’s British Pictures 10 November1995, lot 3 (ex Durwards Hall, Kelvedon)

MacLeod, Catharine, ‘Sir Charles Cornwallis’, in C. MacLeod, ed., The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, 2012, cat. no. 17, p. 76
MacLeod, Catharine, ‘Robert Peake: Portraits, patrons and technical evidence’, in T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500-1630: Production, Influences and Patronage, Oxford, 2015, pp. 288-97

Exhibition history
‘The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart’, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2012-2013


IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic d…
IRR mosaic 02. Infrared reflectogram mosaic d…
Micro 01. Detail of the eye on the left (7.1…
Micro 03. Detail of the nose (7.1 x mag).
Micro 04. Detail of the lips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 05. Detail of the edge of the ruff and…
Micro 07. Detail of a button loop on the doub…
Micro 08. Detail of the doublet (7.1 x mag).
Micro 09. Detail of the sleeve on the left (7…
Micro 10. Detail of the pigment mixture in th…
Micro 11. Detail of the pigment mixture in th…
Micro 12. Detail of the index finger on the h…
Micro 14. Detail of the rod of office, showin…
Micro 15. Detail of the chain and shirt (7.1…
Micro 17. Detail of the pigment mixture in th…
Micro 20. Detail of the inscription (50 x mag…
Micro 21. Detail of the pigment mixture in th…
Detail 06. Detail of the costume.

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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 panel has a slight convex warp and has a cradle attached to the reverse. The panel joins appear sound although retouching along the right hand join suggests there is some degree of movement. There are small splits in the panel at the bottom corners and the right hand top corner. There are several areas of loss around the edges of the panel and a scratch at the top left corner which has resulted in small areas of paint loss. On the reverse of the panel there is a small area of mould growth. The paint layer is in a good condition with relatively few areas of paint loss. There are small scratches on both of of the hands which have retouched. The lower edge of the painting, including the sitter's legs, appears to have been largely retouched. The right-hand edge has suffered from damage and abrasion in the past which has been retouched. Very small, circular losses in the paint layer are visible across the painting and are likely to be the result of lead soap formation.

The painting was subsequently treated in 2012, with a full clean, restoration and revarnish.


Support type: Eastern Baltic and English oak

Number of boards: 3

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel is in a good condition and the joins appear stable. There are small splits at three of the corners of the panel and numerous small chips and losses around the edge of the panel.

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: 1589


The three boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front) for the purposes of analysis. Board C was an unusual tangential board which was not suitable for analysis. Board A was found to match against English reference data and board B matched against Eastern Baltic reference data, making this a relatively unusual panel using both English and Baltic oak. A sequence of 129 rings was recovered from the upper edge of board A and a series of partial sequences from the upper and lower edges of board B were recovered to produce a composite of 192 years length form this board. Adding the appropriate number of sapwood rings, different for the two sources, suggests these trees were felled after AD 1585 and AD 1597 respectively. Boards A and B are 283mm and 284mm wide, making board B the typical width of a Baltic board. It is therefore relatively unlikely that this board was significantly trimmed. It is therefore appropriate to apply an eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR-usage range to this panel which provides a conjectural usage-date of 1597-1629 for 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.

In x-ray the additions to the panel along the left edge and corners are clear and the cradle can be seen (see x-ray mosaic 01). The different wood used for the original boards is clear from the very distinct wood grain seen in all three members. No dowels or other methods for joining panels are visible. The thin priming layer has been quickly applied in a brushy manner. The paint layers are thinly painted and the face has little build up or modelling. The underlayers of the costume have been applied very freely with broad brushstrokes visible. The detail of the fabric has then been applied on top of the underlayer. Reserves have been left for some areas, such as the basic shape of the ruff, which has then been worked up in greater detail to describe the lace. The pendant has been painted over the top of buttons on the sitter's shirt. The background has been applied thinly and quickly with broad brushstrokes following the contours of the sitter.

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.

Infrared reflectography reveals detailed underdrawing visible beneath the hand on the left, which defines the contours of the hand and fingers with short, freely worked marks (see IRR mosaic 02). Minor changes in the positioning of the fingers are visible and the final painted thumb is thicker than that seen in the original underdrawing. By contrast, the hand on the right seems to be sketched in paint without apparent drawing (see IRR mosaic 01). Dark brushstrokes marking out the original position can be seen but no underdrawing is evident in this area. The positioning of the fingers on the hand on the right was changed during the painting stage. No underdrawing could be identified in the face or costume of the sitter.

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 November 2010.

Preparation layers and underdrawing
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground, followed by a light grey priming.
Sample 9: This was stained for protein, which showed that the chalk is bound with proteinaceous medium (size) as expected. The priming stained partially, which suggested an emulsion was employed as medium for this preparation.

Thin lines of underdrawing can be seen in the hand and elsewhere in the flesh.
Sample1: In dispersion the loose, dry appearance of the underdrawing seems to fit with its appearance with polarising light microscopy, and it is probably graphite.

The paint mixture for the flesh contains lead white, vermilion and charcoal black. In the face the charcoal black is chiefly in the sparse shadowing. There may be an underlayer of lead white or flesh colour, as in the hand. There is no red lake present in the face except in the outline of the upper lip.

There is an underlayer of thin black in the outline of the eyes with what appears to be red ochre on top. The pupil of the eye is painted with black and white, with no blue present. The black has the rounded appearance of finely ground plant black or bone black. Eyebrows were painted with a mixed brown made with vermilion and charcoal black.

The hair is painted with mixed tones, probably with brown earth mixed with white and black for different tones.

Charcoal black is used extensively to form the grey underlayer of the lace.
Sample 2: Dispersion shows blue in the ruff.

The dark red in the costume pattern appears to be dark red ochre, while the belt appears to be vermilion, both confirmed by dispersions, from samples 7 and 8.
Sample 7: Cross-section from the left side of the costume at the waist shows a thin white lowest layer, probably the top of the waist coat; then a thick red layer with vermilion and some large particles of lead-tin yellow; then a dark brown layer with black, finely ground red and lead-tin yellow; above and involved in this dark layer is a further thick white lead layer; then a fragmentary layer with fine red ochre and some black, and occasional lead-tin particles.
Sample 8: Dispersion from lower belt, left side, shows a mixture of vermilion with lead-tin yellow.
Sample 9: Cross-section from the lower vertical stripe on the leg on the right shows the chalk ground, the pale grey priming and the dark paint of the lower hose made with black, some particles of lead white with a smaller quantity of red, and traces of orange.

The main outlines of the jewels are formed with a mustard-coloured yellow, with highlights on top made with a brighter lead-tin yellow, containing traces of red lead. The lower layer may be a different grade of lead-tin yellow or a warm ochre with vermilion mixed into it. The lead-tin yellow of the chain contains traces of red lead.

Samples 3 and 4 from the background are mostly restoration, but sample 4 seems to show dark background paint beneath, possibly containing smalt.

Sample 5: The letters are overpainted towards the edges but otherwise appear to be original. The paint mixture appears to be lead-tin yellow with perhaps traces of red.

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
The technique and handling employed in the costume are of high quality. The technique is economical, but highly skilled, with fine brushwork and blending (see detail 06). The paint is very thinly applied, and although some abrasion has occurred, this appears intentional. The interesting use of grey paint mixtures is worthy of note. In each of the three primary grey passage; the ruff, sleeves and undershirt, different pigments were used (see micro 10, micro 11 and micro 17). This is interesting as the variation in tone between passages is minimal, suggesting different hands may have been responsible for the different areas. The face and hair appear to be of inferior quality to the costume as they are thinly painted with less detail; however the apparent difference in quality is due partly to the extent of abrasion and the thin layers of restoration. The flesh and hair are particularly worn, but as with other passages, it appears that the thin nature of the paint is part of the original technique. The craquelure pattern in the inscription suggests that it was painted at an early stage, however it is likely that it is not original.

Preparation layers
The oak panel was prepared with a chalk ground and pale grey priming containing lead white and some black. Some underdrawing is visible in the hand on the left, as a result of the thin nature of the paint layer and its increase in transparency over time (see micro 12). The underdrawing material has a black, sparkly appearance.

The face was very thinly painted, directly above the pale priming. Although the flesh has suffered from abrasion, it appears that the thinly painted appearance was intentional. The flesh paint is composed of a mixture of lead white, charcoal black, vermilion and yellow ochre. In areas of warm flesh tone, a higher proportion of red and black was added. The outline of the face has been handled in a very loose manner which may have become more obvious due to age and abrasion. A scumble of flesh paint extends onto the satin of the lace collar which could be intended to be a reflection of the skin tone in the fabric.

The eyes have been outlined with a fluid dark brown paint, although much of this is non-original (see micro 01). What remains of the original here appears to have been carried out with a mixture of vermilion, black, red lake and perhaps some earth pigment. The eyelashes in the eye on the left have been created by dragging wet flesh paint down and across the eye with a fluid black line painted over the top. The whites of the eyes contain lead white, charcoal black and a little vermilion. The irises are heavily reinforced with restoration. The original appears to be a mixed grey composed of lead white, charcoal black, sienna or ochre and vermilion.

The nose is very smoothly blended and definition is achieved by varying the tone of the flesh colour, rather than use of a defining line (see micro 03). The deep shadow of the nostril contains red lake, black and vermilion. The flesh paint and darker paint of the nostril have been blended in to each other.

The lips were painted above the basic flesh colour, using a higher proportion of vermilion and charcoal black. The deep shadow of the parting was achieved with a red lake glaze, with the addition of a little black (perhaps with a little vermilion) (see micro 04).

A reserve has been left in the background paint for the hair which is visible along the upper edge. The hair has been executed in brushy, wet-in-wet strokes. A darker brown paint has been used in this area which appears very dry and heavily pigmented and is applied very thinly. Grey hairs have been picked out with lighter highlights. The hair is very abraded and has been strengthened with retouching.

This was first laid in using a mid-grey containing lead white, charcoal black, azurite, ochre and perhaps a little red lead, directly above the priming layer (see micro 17). Variations in tone appear to have been created by altering the thickness of the paint layer. Details were then applied above, using fine brushstrokes of lead white (with a little black) when the grey layer was still wet (see micro 05).

The costume appears to have been painted after the background was applied, and before the ruff. The black cloak was painted first, using a mixture of black and a small proportion of lead white and red. This black extends into the doublet and hose, (perhaps with a slightly higher proportion of red added) and forms the dark brown/black areas seen in these areas. The grey highlights on the black cloak were painted above the initial black layer, using a mixture of lead white, black and azurite.

Doublet and hose
The use of the dark paint from the cloak as an underlayer for the doublet and hose is evidence of highly economical and skilled technique. The pattern on the costume has been painted in a repetitive manner but with meticulous attention to detail. The paint appears to have been applied with a relatively stiff brush, creating distinctive brush marks (see micro 07 and micro 08). Above the dark under layer a very thinly applied grey was used for detail and pattern. This was followed by white highlights and dabs of red/brown. The latter paint mixture appears to contain red ochre and charcoal black. The paint mixtures used in the doublet and hose have been applied in differing layer structures, and in some areas are blended wet-in-wet . This suggests that the finishing details were applied concurrently.

The dark shadow was applied first, using broad and fluidly applied brushstrokes and same dark brown/black used for the cloak. A mid-grey paint composed of lead white and charcoal black was then thinly and loosely applied above (see micro 10), allowing the dark shadow paint to show through to the surface. Highlights were then brushed and daubed on, whilst the grey layer beneath was still wet. In some areas, the two passages of paint were then blended with a soft brush (perhaps with a little dilute grey on the brush), to create folds and thread details in the fabric (see micro 09).

It appears that a reserve was left for the cuffs when the background was applied. The cuff was laid in with a pale grey layer before the flesh paint of the hand. The white lace detail was then added above. One or two particles of smalt were seen mixed into the white paint.

The undershirt was laid in before the doublet was painted. The grey is composed of a mixture of lead white, black and good quality smalt and therefore differs from the pigment mixtures used in the sleeves and ruff (see micro 11). Despite this, there is little tonal variation between each of the grey passages within the painting, which would account for differing pigment choices. It is therefore possible that the differentiation is accountable to the work of a number of hands, rather than a single painter.

Pendant and chain
The chain was first laid in using a mixture of yellow ochre and lead white, followed by detail above painted with lead-tin yellow with traces red lead (see micro 15). The gold outlines for the jewels were painted with warm mustard-yellow which may be yellow ochre with red mixed into it, or a different grade of lead-tin yellow, and the highlights above this were painted with lead-tin yellow containing some red lead. The red jewels were painted with vermilion

Rod of office
The straight edges of the rod were achieved by scoring a ruled line into the still wet background paint (see micro 14). The off-white was then thinly painted, directly above the background paint, using a mixture of lead white, charcoal black and a little red. A considerable amount of restoration can be seen in this area, including many brown dots from poorly applied restoration technique.

The background was thinly applied in broad brushstrokes, directly above the pale priming. The brown paint mixture appears to be composed of charcoal black, azurite, smalt, vermilion, red lake and yellow ochre (see micro 21). The background appears to have been applied at an early stage, after the face and before the costume and rod of office. Surface examination suggests that the background was still wet when the ruff was laid in.

The inscription was fluidly painted with reasonably dry paint after the background had fully dried. Although the craquelure pattern running through the inscription suggests it was applied early on, lead-tin yellow was not used, which you might expect (see micro 20). Despite the fact that lead tin yellow is seen elsewhere (in the gold chain and medallion for example), the inscription was painted using a mixture of lead white, yellow ochre, black and a little red lake.

Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Pale priming
- Underdrawing
- Face
- Hair colour laid in
- Background
- Costume: cloak, undershirt and then Doublet
- Ruff
- Reserve left for cuffs
- Rod of office incised and painting
- Cuffs
- Hands
- Hair detail added
- Inscription

Lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, red lake, red lead, smalt, azurite, yellow ochre, lead-tin yellow, red ochre

Changes in composition/pentimenti
Changes have been made to the position of both of the hands.

Restoration observations
The hair and flesh paint is very abraded compared to the costume of the sitter. The hose (over the thighs) in the lower part of the painting have suffered considerable abrasion . On the left hand side there is a wooden addition and the two left corners also have been replaced and repainted to match the background.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

The painting has residues of an old varnish which fluoresce green under ultraviolet light (see UV 01). The residues are mainly located on top of the black paint of the cloak on the right hand side and around the inscription in the top left corner; which would indicate that the painting has been sensitively cleaned in the past. The most recent retouchings are visible across the painting as dark passages on the surface. Extensive retouchings are visible around the edges of the panel. The left-hand panel join has retouchings all the way down its length; the right hand join has retouching mainly in the upper half. There are small areas of retouching in the sitter's face and the hair has been strengthened; two tones of restoration can be seen in the flesh and hair which indicate at least two campaigns of restoration. The costume appears to be in a good condition with very few areas of overpaint.


Frame type: Not original

Frame date: 20th century - mid / late 17th century in style


The frame appears to have been fabricated in the 20th century. The design of the frame is in the style of the English, running pattern style with 'mirror' motifs. Style also known as a Lely frame. The face of the frame has a 'silvered' scheme, which has been deliberately abraded through to the underlying bole and gesso in places in order to give it an aged appearance. The ornament has been carved in wood, whilst the smooth surface on the face of the frame has been created with gesso. The gesso has been tooled in areas.