Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
2 of 66 portraits of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
by Unknown English workshop
oil on panel, circa 1575
38 in. x 27 in. (965 mm x 686 mm)
New attribution: Unknown English workshop
Purchased in 1867 from Messrs. Graves as a portrait of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk (1517-54); however, the sitter wears costume from a later period, making this identification impossible. The portrait was previously in the collection of the Manor House, Hasley, near Thame.
Leicester’s iconography is now more fully understood and this portrait is one version of a clearly identified type depicting Leicester.
Notes on likely authorship and justification
At one time the work was attributed to Johannes Corvus, but it was thought by Strong to be the work of a ‘pedestrian Flemish hand’ (Strong, 1969, p. 194). The portrait is painted in quite a mechanical way and is likely to have been produced as one of several versions. Given Leicester’s significant influence in the 1570s and 1580s, demand for his portrait from courtiers, gentry and institutions must have been reasonably high.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The technique follows a simple system, and in comparison with other works from this period there are some archaic methods used, such as the use of gold leaf. Tonal variations are quite sharply defined. The doublet and the hat feather are painted in a particularly simple and economical way. To create shadow on the doublet on the right side, the dark first layer for the sleeves and fur was extended into the reserve left for the doublet, before the grey doublet paint was applied. The grey paint was then painted thinly over this dark layer. A similar technique was used for the feathers on the hat.
The quality of the gilding is not fine and there appear to have been problems with adhesion to the mordant beneath. In many parts the gold is uneven and poorly applied. The tone of the mordant varies and there is a very dark mordant under the gilding on the side of the doublet on the left. The mordant under the gilding on the hose is very similar. The gold lines of decoration on the doublet are extended over the shadow with yellow paint which is not gilded, but this appears to be a yellow mordant for gold leaf. Lead-tin yellow was used more frequently than gold leaf to depict gold elements of a composition at his period.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Dendrochronological analysis provided a conjectural usage date range for the panel of 1564-1596.
Drawing and transfer technique
The portrait was clearly painted using a pattern, although there is little evidence of underdrawing. This suggests that once the principal features were drawn, the artist closely followed the lines with the paint.
Relevance to other known versions
A considerable number of portraits of Leicester exist.
An identical version of NPG 247 is at Hatfield House (Marquess of Salisbury). This portrait was engraved as Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk by Freeman in 1825, but was later called Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick.
Other versions include:
- a head and shoulders version called Leicester was at Wroxton Abbey (with Appleby Bros. 1964)
- a version previously in the Rothschild collection
- a version in the Paul Mellon collection
- a version at Hardwick Hall (National Trust)
- a version sold at Sotheby’s on 12 November 1909, lot. 197, bought by Van Berg.
- Head-and-shoulders version, Croft Castle, National Trust, NT 537582
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p.194-6
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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 has been thinned to approximately 3-4 mm and backed with balsa wood, which has been disguised by a thin veneer of stained oak. The edges of the balsa backing have been impregnated with wax-resin. The presence of the backing makes the overall thickness of the painting approximately 15-16 mm. Large losses due to flaking have been filled and retouched in the background in the upper left and lower right. The restoration is not particularly well matched. The majority of the figure is in reasonable condition, although the paint is heavily cupped and cracked. The paint surface shows signs of significant wear and overcleaning. There is a sharp raised edge at the top of the left-hand join. The varnish is clear, although thickly sprayed and textured. The varnish is very brittle and vulnerable to scratching.
Number of boards: 3
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel has been thinned to approximately 3-6 mm and backed with balsa wood blocks, which have been disguised by a thin veneer of stained oak. The edges of the balsa backing have been impregnated with wax-resin. The presence of the backing makes the overall thickness of the painting approximately 15-16 mm.
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: 1556
For the analysis the boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front). All three boards contain sufficient rings for analysis and no sapwood is present on the outer edges of the boards. This means that a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. The presence of a wax and balsa backing on the reverse made access to the board edges difficult, therefore subsections of boards A and B were selected and prepared for measurement. The partial ring sequences from these boards match each other strongly and indicate that the boards derive from the same tree. The dates of the last rings identified were 1556 from both boards examined. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests this tree was felled after 1564. The two boards that were examined have widths which are typical for Baltic boards. As this picture is undated and the board does not seem to have been trimmed prior to use, it is suitable to apply an Eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR- usage range to the panel; this gives a conjectural usage-date range of 1564-1596. The left-hand board (from the back) is only 110 mm wide, suggesting it was either significantly trimmed prior to painting, or the painting was originally 160-190 mm wider along the right-hand edge (from the front).
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 vertical wood grain and panel joins can be seen in x-ray. The areas of damage and paint loss and the balsa blocks attached to the back of the panel are all evident. X-ray shows the straightforward system and method of painting very clearly (see x-ray mosaic 01). The reserve left for the hat feather can be seen and it is clear the dark sleeves were applied before the details on the doublet. The lead-bearing details in the paint surface are crisp and clear in x-ray, such as the mordant for the buttons, the pattern on the hose, and the lines on the doublet. The final layer of the background was evidently applied last, using a fairly stiff brush. The outline of the shoulders was changed a little at this late stage, reduced on the left and extended on the right. The width of the skirt on the jacket was reduced at the lower left.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Infrared reflectography does not show evidence of any significant underdrawing. A faint curved line, however, was observed in the eye on the left (see IRR mosaic 01), suggesting that the principal features were drawn, and very closely followed with the paint above. The brown lines beneath the gold on the left side of the doublet appear very dark and they are likely to be a dark mordant, with a high proportion of black, used for the gilding here (see IRR mosaic 02).
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 December 2009.
The panel was prepared with a thick chalk ground, followed by a warm pale grey priming containing lead white and occasional particles of black and red (perhaps ochre and lake).
Sample 4: Taken from the hand on the left shows the flesh paint to be composed of lead white, red ochre, some vermilion, red lake and black.
Sample 3: From the hose, shows the full layer structure of the painting. Above the chalk ground and priming, the hose paint appears to have been applied in two layers: a mixed warm grey and an upper layer of beige. The gilding was applied over a thick mordant. The gold was then modelled with a fine red lake glaze, followed by white highlights.
Sample 2: Taken from the lower hose, shows that the grey surface paint here is similar in its constituents to the grey underlayer for the background. This grey is composed of lead white, black, red lake and vermilion.
Sample 1: The green background was first painted with a warm grey underlayer, above the ground and priming. This grey underlayer is composed of lead white, large particles of carbon black (probably plant black) and red lake. Traces of an opaque red (either vermilion or red ochre) were also identified in this underlayer. The surface paint layer is a mixed green, composed of good quality azurite, with a little lead-tin yellow and a little yellow earth pigment. In dispersion taken some translucent brown was noted amongst the azurite particles. This suggests that there may have originally been a copper green glaze as the uppermost layer in the background, which discoloured to brown. A strongly crystalline azurite particle can be seen in dispersion.
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 portrait was evidently painted using a pattern, although there is little evidence of underdrawing. The technique follows a simple system and uses some archaic techniques and economical methods.
There is a thick chalk ground and a pale grey priming layer.
There is some light underdrawing in the face.
There appears to be an initial thin layer of warm-toned flesh paint, with the modelling built up over it quite thickly with paste-like paint containing lead white, vermilion, red lake and charcoal black in varying proportions. The tonal transitions are quite sharply defined. The most florid parts of the face contain a high proportion of red pigments. The nose tip is softly feathered with a dry brush used wet-in-wet (see micro 04). The nose is outlined with brown paint and the parting of the lips is simply defined with red lake (see micro 06). The veins in the temple are painted with charcoal, apparently applied just below the last thin layer of opaque paint.
There are very small particles of smalt in the whites of the eyes. The red at the inner corner of each eye is bright and strongly defined. The last details defining the eyes were applied after this red was applied (see micro 01 and micro 02).
Beard and moustache
An initial brown paint layer was laid in for the beard and moustache. The fine detail for the hairs was painted over the brown layer with a very fine brush. The moustache was painted after the first white lace detail on the collar was applied but some of the final white lace is painted over the moustache (see micro 06).
In order to describe the veins on the back of the hand, grey lines were painted over the first flesh paint layer and the subsequent flesh layers were applied over the grey lines (see micro 12). The grey vein lines extend a little beneath the lace cuff detail at the wrist, and were evidently painted before the white lace detail. The edges of the fingers were outlined first in warm grey paint and the flesh paint was applied with crisp edges along the outlines. A thin outline in reddish brown was applied round the fingers. The shadows between the fingers are finely blended with a dry brush wet-in-wet, in the same way as the edges of the nose and cheek (see micro 17). There are strong white highlights on the fingers. The edge of the sword hilt was initially painted in before the hand on the right, and the knuckles were later painted over this.
The first layers of the dark sleeves and fur were painted in first. On the right side this dark layer was extended into the reserve which was left for the doublet. Grey paint was thinly applied over the dark layer to create the shadowed side of the doublet. The gilding on the left side of the doublet was applied over a dark mordant containing a high proportion of black. The gold lines on the right side of the doublet are not gilded, but are painted simply with yellow paint over the thin grey paint, with lead-tin yellow used for highlights. Surface examination suggests that these areas were originally finely gilded, using only the dark yellow paint as a mordant. The gold clearly did not stick well in these areas, and lead-tin yellow was then used above to create the highlight (see micro 03).
A grey layer for the hose was applied first, the strips of lighter grey/buff cloth were applied over this and the white embroidery applied last. The gilding on the hose was applied over a dark mordant layer, similar to that used in the doublet (see micro 14). Warm brown lines are painted each side of the gilding, with a thin layer of red glaze, containing red lake, painted over them. The gilding does not extend to the lowest part of the hose and the lines are continued with the warm brown paint with the thin red glaze. The red glaze runs slightly over the edges of the gilding. The gilding on details, such as the sword belt and the Garter pendant of St George and the dragon, was applied with a paler grey mordant (see micro 10 and micro 13). The buttons on the dark sleeves have a raised yellow mordant, with a dark grey underlayer over the mordant and beneath the gilding (see micro 09). The gilding on the costume is not fine, and it may have been regilded. The gilded detail on the Garter chain and on the sword belt and strap is outlined with black paint, which seems to be an archaic technique.
Collar and cuffs
The collar and cuffs were laid in with a grey layer. Some detail was applied finely with lead white, followed by the majority of the lace detail, which was applied more boldly with thicker lead white paint. The moustache was painted after the first fine white detail was applied. Some of the final more bold white detail was applied over the moustache (see micro 11 and micro 19).
A thin grey layer was painted onto the reserve left for the feather (see micro 05). A darker grey was applied round the edge of the reserve (see micro 21). The brushstrokes indicate that this was intended to be part of the feather and is not part of the background. The white details of the feathers were painted over the dark grey edge to give depth and modelling. The background green was painted up to the edge of the grey.
Sword and hilt
The sword belt and strap were applied over the hose. Parts of the sword handle are gilded and there are dark hatched lines drawn with black paint for the shadow on the guard (see micro 18). This seems an old-fashioned technique dating from earlier in the sixteenth century, for instance on the gilded cuffs on a portrait of Henry VIII (NPG 3638).
Order of the Garter
There is a brown/grey mordant layer beneath the gold leaf on the roses. There is a thin red lake layer over the gilding and some petals are defined with a pink paint mixture of lead white and red lake (see micro 07). The blue is painted with smalt which has discoloured. The small figures of St George and the dragon are gilded (see micro 10). There is a green glaze on the dragon's back and some red glaze on its belly. The front feet are red and not glazed. There are lines of red glaze drawn to indicate detail on St George's costume and some black outline. The horse is painted white and has a gilded tail and mane.
The green background was first painted with a grey underlayer composed of lead white, large particles of carbon black (probably plant black) and red lake. An opaque green was then applied above using good quality azurite, with lead-tin yellow and a little sienna. Surface examination suggests that a little red lake and lead white pigments may also be included in the green mixture (see micro 20).
Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Pale grey priming / Underdrawing (as the paint follows the underdrawing so closely it was difficult to identify its position in the layer structure)
The first paint layers were applied over the priming:
- For the dark jacket, the first layer of flesh paint, the grey underlayer on the collar and cuffs, grey paint at the edge of the feather, the outlines of the hands
- First layer of background
- First layer for costume
The precise order is not clear:
- Further costume detail
- The sword belt and strap were applied over the hose
- Flesh paint modelling, hair, moustache and beard
- Lace collar and cuffs
- Gilded details
- Green background applied last
Lead white, charcoal black, plant black, azurite, smalt, vermilion, red lake, vermilion, lead-tin yellow, yellow ochre, copper green glaze and gold leaf
Changes to composition/pentimenti
Edges of the hand on the right where the sword was initially painted a little lower and blocked in before the hand. Pentimenti can also be seen in the shoulders. The left side of the jacket skirt was reduced a little. On the right side the grey doublet was extended over the dark jacket paint.
The green background appears to have been heavily restored, leaving a patchy appearance. Isolated retouchings are visible throughout, particularly along the left hand panel join (from the front) (see UV 01).
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
A greenish opaque fluorescence shows that a thin layer of natural resin varnish remains on the paint surface, left after careful cleaning. There is a slightly more opaque, therefore thicker, residue on the left side of the dark costume. There is restoration, which appears dark with UV, on losses down the left panel join, in scattered areas over the paint surface, and on the background on each side of the neck (see UV 01). There is very little restoration on the face. On the tunic on the left side the dark underlayer below the gilding appears very dark in ultra violet light. The dark layer under the gilding on the upper hose is less dark. The red on the Garter collar appears very pink in ultra violet light. It is painted with red lake and with pink (mixed white and red lake), applied over gold. The red lake on the costume of St. George on the Garter pendant appears orange/pink; the tones indicate the presence of madder lake.