Sir Henry Lee
1 portrait on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Sir Henry Lee
by Anthonis Mor (Antonio Moro)
oil on panel, 1568
25 1/4 in. x 21 in. (641 mm x 533 mm)
Key findings: The portrait is extremely skilfully painted to create a remarkable mimetic illustration. The pattern on the sleeves has been transferred via pouncing.
Presented to the Gallery in 1925 by Harold Arthur, 17th Viscount Dillon in memory of Julia, Viscountess Dillon. Originally, it probably passed from the sitter to his cousin and heir, Sir Henry Lee (1571-1631). In the nineteenth century it was thought to be a portrait of Sir Francis Drake.
It was probably painted by Anthonis Mor when Lee was in Antwerp in early June 1568. At this time he was in the company of Edward, 3rd Lord Windsor, whose portrait of a similar date employs a very similar composition (collection of the Earl of Plymouth). The two portraits both show the sitter with his thumb through a ring suspended from a cord around his neck. It is not clear what the gesture was originally meant to imply but it may have related to bonds of friendship or commitment. The Windsor portrait (examined March 2010) is not by Anthonis Mor but the picture is strongly influenced by Mor’s work.
Notes on likely authorship
The portrait is signed ‘Antonis mor/ pingebat 1568’ and the authorship is not in question (see detail 03). The date of the panel suggested by dendochronology as well as the quality and style of painting support the authorship as Anthonis Mor.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The portrait has been painted with very fine brushwork and attention to detail, using very subtle softening of edges and blending. It is relatively thinly painted with quite complex layering and the light priming layer is left visible in some areas for tonal effect. The sophisticated technique includes some scoring into wet paint in the hair and dragging wet paint in the collar and cuff highlights with a stiff brush. The background is painted with a very skilful use of paint layering to create the extremely subtle illusion of physical space. There is an interesting change in the thumb which has been extended through the ring to give greater emphasis to the effect of pulling downward on the cord. When examined closely the tip of the thumb now appears a little out of proportion.
The portrait composition is very carefully planned and the positioning of the figure and the subtle handling helps to create the powerful mimetic effect. At the waist it can be seen where a reserve was left for the figure. Along the right shoulder of the tunic it can be seen that the blue/grey background was painted up to the reserve, leaving a small line of priming along the shoulder line.
Justification for dating
All materials used are consistent with the original inscribed date of 1568 and the dating is not in question. The panel is made of two boards of Baltic oak. The date for the last heartwood tree ring was 1550, and adding the conjectured number of sapwood rings leaves about ten years for the panel to be put to use.
Drawing and transfer technique
No carbon underdrawing was obvious using infrared reflectography although dark lines can be seen in some parts, for example at the edges of the ear. These could be underdrawing or outlines in black paint applied to define key features.
To transfer the complex design of the pattern on the sleeves Mor has made use of pouncing. On the sitter’s right sleeve there is a short row of dots at the inner edge of the lozenge around the lovers’ knot pattern, and another short line of dots within the same lovers’ knot.
Relevance to other known versions
- poor contemporary variant was with Gooden & Fox in 1960
- there is a 20th century version of this work at the Armourers’ Hall attributed to Edmund Dyer
Chambers, Edmund, Sir Henry Lee: An Elizabethan Portrait, 1936, pp. 33-34
Cooper, Tarnya, A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2008, p. 15
Dillon, Harold Arthur Lee, Catalogue of Paintings at Ditchley, Spelsbury, Oxfordshire, 1908, p. 29
Friedlander, Max, Early Netherlandish Painting, 14 vols., 1936, vol. 13, p. 124
Hearn, Karen, ‘Portrait of Sir Henry Lee’, in David Starkey, ed., Elizabeth: the Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, National Maritime Museum, 2003, p. 91 (no. 76)
Hymans, Henry, Antonio Moro, 1910, pp. 144-145
Roe, Frederic Gordon, 'The Last of Sir Henry Lee', Connoisseur, vol. 110, 1942, pp. 3-12
Scharf, George, A List of the Most Noteworthy Pictures in the National Portrait Exhibition at South Kensington, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1868 (no. 663)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 190-1
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image, Tate Gallery, 1969, p. 34 (no. 54)
Strong, Roy, The Cult of Elizabeth, 1971, pp. 129-61
Yates, Frances, ‘Elizabethan Chivalry: the Romance of the Accession Day Tilts’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 20, 1957, pp. 18-25
Yates, Frances, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century, 1975, pp. 90-91
Woodall, Joanna, 'The Portraiture of Antonis Mor', PhD Thesis, Courtauld Institute, London, 1989, vol. 2, pp. 488-92
Woodall, Joanna, ‘Sir Henry Lee’, in Karen Hearn, ed., Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate Gallery, 1995, pp. 60-61, (no. 20)
Woodall, Joanna, Anthonis Mor: Art and Authority, 2007
'Sir Henry Lee's Mastiff', Daily Telegraph, 30th October 1925
Catalogue of the Art Treasures of the United Kingdom, collected in Manchester, Manchester, 1857 (no. 500)
Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, The New Gallery, 1890, p, 84 (no. 268)
British Portraits, Royal Academy of Arts, 1956 (no. 25)
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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.
The panel is in a stable condition. Canvas has been attached to the reverse and small losses along the panel join show that there has been movement along the join in the past. The knots in the panels have suffered from woodworm attack but are currently in a stable condition. The paint layer is in excellent condition, with only minor retouchings across the panel. There are varnish residues which have bloomed and are slightly disturbing in the darker passages of paint. The current varnish is in good condition.
There are retouchings down the panel join, in the area of the knots, to reinforce some chain links and the pattern on the sleeves. All appear well matched. The strengthening in the sleeve pattern appears a little resinous and milky through the microscope.
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel has suffered from woodworm, concentrated around the knots where exit holes and tunnels can be seen in x-ray. There has been movement in the join which has lead to some paint loss along the join in the bottom half. The panel join and two small splits in the upper-right corner have been reinforced with strips of canvas. Otherwise the panel is in good condition. Toolmarks on the back indicate that the panel has not been thinned since it was originally made. The edges of the panel are bevelled. There is a brown coating across the reverse of the panel which also covers the later canvas additions.
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: 1550
The panel is made of two boards in vertical alignment, which were labelled A and B from the left (from the front) for analysis. Both boards have knots in the upper half which appear to match, meaning they must come from the same section of the original tree. Neither board retained sapwood, which means that a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. Board B was measured along the upper edge and found to match eastern Baltic reference data and the date for the last tree ring was 1550. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that the tree cannot have been felled before 1558.
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 x-ray is dominated by the wood grain. The knots in the two boards are very clear, as are the concentration of woodworm holes around them (see x-ray mosaic 01). The canvas strips reinforcing the panel join and splits on the reverse can be clearly seen. The panel join has been problematic in the past; the join and associated paint loss has been filled and is clearly visible in x-ray. Brushmarks are visible, especially at the upper edge, which relate to the thick brown coating on the reverse of the panel. There is no evidence of brushmarks that relate to the ground or priming layers. The image is thinly painted and barely visible in x-ray. Not much evidence of the handling and paint technique is apparent. It is difficult to tell if there have been significant changes in composition during the painting process. The ruff and cuff are the most prominent areas of the image as they have been painted with lead white. The patterns on the sleeves are not visible at all in x-ray except for a faint outline of the central armillary sphere on the sleeve on the left.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
No carbon underdrawing was clearly evident with infrared reflectography but dark lines can be seen which could be outlines in black paint for some parts, for example at the edges of the ear. Surface examination shows short lines of dots in the pattern on top of the paint surface on the sleeve on the left which is evidently pouncing, and carbon lines under the grey lines of the pattern (see IRR mosaic 01 and IRR mosaic 02).
With infrared reflectography the brushstrokes of the costume can clearly be seen extending underneath the flesh of the hand at the edge. Also evident is a thick outline of paint around the hand, particularly around the thumb. The very end of the thumb looks awkwardly handled in infrared reflectography, which supports the idea that the thumb was extended at a later stage in the composition.
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 March 2009.
The priming in the background (sample 3) is made mostly with lead white with occasional particles of dark brown or black, whereas the sample for the priming under the sleeves (sample 2) is considerably darker with large particles of plant or lamp black, beneath the pale grey sleeve.
In sample 2 there are smalt particles with a bluish tint mixed into the grey sleeve paint, probably to counteract the yellowing effects of oil and varnish. The lead white in the samples included very large particles. These do not appear to be lead soaps. The pale grey of the sleeves contains lamp black.
Sample 4 showed two types of black: a very dark brown black with angular particles, which might be plant black, and a smokey black with smaller, rounded particles which might be bone black. The mixture in the dispersion also contained yellow ochre, which suggests that the mixture of black and yellow was aiming at a greenish hue for this part of the dark doublet.
Red in the chain and the ring
Samples 5 and 6: The red is composed of large lumps of scarlet pigment with the characteristics of vermilion, and also some red lake. Although the rather rounded appearance of some particles of the bright red might indicate an earth pigment, it seems unlikely that this is not vermilion in such a focal point in the painting.
Green on the ring
Green and blue mixtures are made with azurite mixed with yellow ochre.
A dispersion of sample 3 seemed to be an organic brown with some more solid earth pigments. Bright anisotropic particles with a slightly greenish tint might be a copper pigment, perhaps malachite or verdigris, which was perhaps added as a drier rather than a colourant. However, large lead white particles can appear green and these may have come from the priming.
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 painting has been executed using very fine brushwork and attention to detail, with very subtle softening of edges and blending. Many passages of paint have been manipulated while still wet; a stiff brush or tool has been dragged through the brushstrokes pulling out thin lines of paint, invisible to the naked eye. The paint layer system is quite complicated but it is also extremely assured. The artist has applied the paint layers economically, making use of the priming underneath, which is left visible in many areas.
There is a chalk ground layer. The light priming layer is visible in areas of the painting where there are no upper layers of paint (see micro 19). Lines of lead white soaps,apparently from the priming, can be seen in the surface following lines made by the brush bristles of the priming (see micro 06). In some passages there are black lines just beneath the paint layers which also appear to be integrated into the thin paint, for example at the edges of the ear (see micro 23). These seem to have been applied to define outlines of key features. They can be seen clearly with infrared reflectography.
The pattern seems to have been drawn in black onto the white paint of the sleeves when it was still a little tacky. Carbon underdrawing can be seen under the sleeve pattern. On the sleeve on the left, there is a short row of dots at the inner edge of the lozenge round the upper lovers' knot pattern, and another short line of dots within the same lovers' knot. These dots seem to be the remains of pouncing made for drawing the pattern. There are other dots visible under the grey paint in other parts of the pattern. There is a great deal of carbon pigment scattered in the white paint surface, probably when the pouncing was brushed away.
Paint layer structure
Thin paint layers were built up in subtle layers on both the face and the hands, with very fine brushstrokes feathering and texturing the paint surface (see micro 07). In some parts the priming layer was left partly visible as part of the surface effect to add depth and luminosity to the paint, in particular around the eyes and mouth and the temples where the paint over the priming was applied very thinly. The thumb on the hand on the right appears to have been extended (see micro 21). The tip is too long to be anatomically correct and the original positioning is visible and a faint line of the red cord exists where it would have extended further. The extended tip of the thumb is painted over the costume paint. The reason for this change was to emphasise the positioning of the thumb through the ring and the tautness of the cord as it is pulled down around the sitter's neck.
The eyes are painted with delicate brushstrokes with very fine softening and blending (see micro 02). Blue pigment can be seen mixed into the grey iris as well as into the white of the eyes. Red particles are also visible in the grey mixture, which could be vermilion.
Beard, hair and eyebrows
The beard, hair and eyebrows are painted thinly with fine brushstrokes, with detailed blending and feathering to convey the texture of the hair. Final hairs were applied over the grey layer of the background. Where the hair falls around the face, the hairs are softly blended wet-in-wet (see micro 06).
Collar and cuffs
The ruffs on the collar and cuff have been executed using thin strokes of different paint mixtures (see micro 04, micro 05 and micro 19):
- a thin grey layer which contains large particles of charcoal black.
- a thin, medium-rich brown.
- light creamy white layer with scattered blue particles of smalt.
- highlights in a thick pure white.
- touches of a red lake glaze are visible but it is unclear what purpose these touches of red would have as they are not noticeable to the naked eye (see micro 15). This is possibly to deepen areas of shadow.
The wet paint of the highlights has been dragged through with a stiff point, softening the outline. Costume paint has also been dragged into the cuff using the same technique (see micro 04, micro 05 and micro 19). In some areas the priming has been left exposed.
The paint on the pale grey/white sleeves was evidently almost dry before the pattern was applied and the pattern was drawn in before it was painted. Around the upper lovers' knot pattern on the sleeve on the left there are large particles of carbon black. These appear in two areas as a row of small dots (see micro 09). These are the remains of pouncing dots from when the pattern was applied to the sleeves before it was painted. There are light lines of carbon under the grey pattern paint, which are the remains of the drawing. The grey pattern paint contains particles of bright blue, identified as smalt (see Paint sampling and micro 24). Much of the grey paint has been strengthened with restoration. Carbon particles can be seen on the sleeve on the right also. The surface of the pattern on this sleeve is broken up with fine drying cracks, some of which appear to be restoration. The artist has attempted to foreshorten the pattern in order to follow the folds in the fabric correctly. In areas of shadow the pattern has been picked out with highlights as a reverse of the pattern in light (see micro 20).
Under most of the clothing of the figure there appears to be a thin layer of warm brown paint containing black pigment particles. This is also visible around the outline of the figure. It seems to extend into the background (see below). This layer was applied before the flesh paint for the hands (see above). The reserve for the figure is evident around the outline of the figure (see micro 17).
The cord around the neck has been marked out with an underlayer of dark red paint over the top of the costume paint (see micro 18). The twists in the cord are indicated by diagonal dashes of a bright red, probably vermilion, and a more translucent pink paint. Over the top of these layers are the remains of a red glaze. Along the edge of the cord a thick, black line has been applied. The black paint used has distinctive drying cracks which are also visible in other areas of red paint on the cord as well as the pattern on the sleeve and details of the rings.
There are six rings in total on the main figure: three on his fingers, one around his neck and two attached to his left sleeve. The rings are painted with the same attention to detail seen in the rest of the painting. Four of the rings have highlights painted in lead-tin yellow detailing the different gold settings for the stones (see micro 10, micro 12, micro 14 and micro 21). The plain silver band on the sitter's finger at the bottom of the picture has a simple lead white highlight, very finely applied. The jewelled ring on his finger appears to be an emerald made with a mixture of azurite and yellow ochre (see micro 12) (see Paint sampling). The diamond ring on his sleeve has been threaded through the red cord before being attached (see micro 10). The jewelled band attached to his cuff has been threaded onto the red ribbon, and the threads are painted using the same translucent pink paint used on the cord.
Evidence of the reserve left for the figure can be seen at the waist. Along the shoulder on the left of the tunic it can be seen that the blue/grey background was painted up to the reserve, leaving a small line of priming along the shoulder line. This seems to contribute to the illusion of the figure moving in space in front of the background. The space behind the figure is described very skilfully with the varying tones of the background paint. A thin brown layer was apparently applied first with the priming layer visible beneath. There is textured brushy brown shadow at the right side and and a lighter opaque grey applied around the figure and at the left side. The grey paint was applied at the end of the painting process. The paint surface is thickly textured and there is a fine surface craquelure.
Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- White priming layer / Some light underdrawing to indicate the key features of the face (It was not possible to determine whether the underdrawing lies above or below the priming layer).
- Pale grey/white sleeves painted
- Carbon drawing applied to grey/white sleeve paint when still slightly tacky, then painted over with grey pattern paint
- Brown applied to right side of background
- Red cord
- Flesh paint
- Opaque grey background layer around figure and at left applied last with final hairs around the head applied over it
- Inscription painted
Lead white, plant and lamp black, possibly bone black, yellow ochre, azurite, smalt, malachite or verdigris, vermilion, red lake, organic brown, lead-tin yellow.
Changes in composition/pentimenti
The thumb was extended through the ring. The outline of the waist in the lower-left corner appears to have been narrowed: a narrow band of background paint has been brushed over the reserve.
The restoration is well matched and the varnish is even and semi-glossy.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Under ultra violet light later retouchings show up as dark areas against the fluorescing varnish. There are areas of retouching down the panel join and numerous, small, scattered areas in the face and hand. The area of gold chain directly under the sitter's chin has retouchings to reinforce the form of the links. In the background there are retouchings in the areas where the knots are present in the panel. The black line around the thumb has been emphasised.
It was expected that there would be a lot of retouching visible on the pattern of the sleeves. There are areas that show up darker in ultra violet but not as strongly as would be expected. It is likely that the retouchings in this area are quite old and may sit under the present varnish.
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