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Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh); Walter Ralegh

1 portrait matching these criteria:

- npg number matching '3914'

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Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh); Walter Ralegh, by Unknown artist, 1602 - NPG 3914 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh); Walter Ralegh

by Unknown artist
oil on canvas, 1602
78 1/2 in. x 50 1/8 in. (1994 mm x 1273 mm)
NPG 3914


An unusual double portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh and his son, made at the height of his favour with Elizabeth I.

The portrait belonged to Nicholas Carew (died 1721) of Beddington, Surrey, who either acquired it from Lady Elwes, eldest daughter of Ralegh’s grandson, or by descent from Ralegh’s brother-in-law Sir Nicholas Carew (died 1644); George Vertue gives both provenances in notes from 1734 and c. 1742. The portrait entered the possession of the Lennard family through Nicholas Carew’s marriage to Anne, daughter of Sir Samuel Lennard. It remained in the Lennard family until it was presented to the Gallery in 1954.

Historical context
This portrait was painted when Ralegh was at the height of his renewed favour with Elizabeth I. The missing parts of the inscription can be supplied from the copy of the portrait at Burghley, executed before the inscription on NPG 3914 had become illegible: ‘1602 / Sr Walter Ralegh Knight Lord Warden of / the Staneries [Capt] of the [Guard Gouenrr : of Virginia] & of the Isle of Yarsey & her M.Lieute / nant general of the Counties of Devonshyre & Cornwall’. This inscription below his son’s right hand reads: ‘ÆAE.SVÆ.8’.

Ralegh’s son, also named Walter, mimics his father’s pose, but his clothes are notably more up-to-date for 1602. The full Venetian hose fastened under the knee are more fashionable than his father’s trunkhose and his ‘falling band’ (turned-down collar) would have been a relatively new style

Notes on attribution
The condition of the painting makes it difficult to assess its authorship.

Justification for dating
The original inscription was revealed during treatment in 1982. Although very damaged, it confirmed that the date 1602 was originally inscribed on the portrait. The honours listed in the inscription also support the dating, as the following year, on James I’s accession, Ralegh was deprived of the Captaincy of the Guard and compelled to resign the Governorship of the Isle of Jersey. The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work of this date.

The paint surface has suffered considerable damage and there is extensive restoration. The condition of the head and face of Ralegh is very poor; little of the original painting technique can be seen and what remains is distorted by insensitive restoration. There are also numerous paint losses over much of the surface. The damage evidently occurred at a relatively early date in the painting’s history as Vertue noted in around 1742 that ‘the face particularly & the Titles being so much damaged tho of late intirely repaird’. The facsimile inscription was added in 1865 when the painting was restored. The floor tiles would also originally have been much brighter, with copper green and red glazes over the thin grey underlayer.

Painting technique
The original quality of the paint surface, especially in the flesh paint, is compromised by the current condition but it is evident that the straightforward technique was skilfully executed, with well-managed bright pigment mixtures over the cool grey priming. The original paint in Ralegh’s face can be seen more clearly in x-ray, whilst the face of his son is in considerably better condition. There are dark painted marks around the facial features where the composition was laid in. The upper layers were thinly painted over these marks, allowing them to show through and strengthen the areas of shadow. Three blue pigments appear to have been employed in the painting: azurite, smalt and indigo. Ralegh’s son’ costume is painted with a brilliant blue made from azurite and smalt that is remarkably well preserved. The irises in the eyes appear to contain indigo, and azurite was mixed into the grey underlayer to the pupils. Red lake was used widely; for example, as the glaze on the table cloth and also in the dark brown shadows of the pearls.

Drawing and transfer technique
There is no obvious underdrawing, but some black painted lines can be seen using infrared reflectography and surface examination suggested these lay beneath the paint surface. Red lake was also used to define part of the outline of the hands. Small changes were made to the composition during the painting process; for example, x-ray reveals that the line of the left cheek and the left part of Ralegh’s son’s chin had been moved a little to the right, and that the left shoulder line might have been lowered a little.

Other known versions
There are a number of copies after this portrait:
- Burghley House
- Ingram sale, Hoar Cross, Staffs, 27June 1952 (lot 880)
- Knole (three-quarter length copy of Walter Ralegh only)
- University of North Carolina (half-length copy of Walter Ralegh only)

Cust, Lionel, ‘The Portraits of Sir Walter Raleigh’, The Walpole Society, VIII, 1920, pp. 6-7
Ribeiro, Aileen and Cally Blackman, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 75
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 257-258
Vertue, George, ‘Notebook IV’, The Walpole Society, XXIV, 1936, p. 67
Vertue, George, ‘Notebook V’, The Walpole Society, XXVI, 1936, p. 16

Exhibition history
‘West Country to World’s End: the South West in the Tudor Age’, Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter, 2013-2014
‘Portraits of Famous Americans’, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, 1968
‘A Pageant of Canada’, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1967-1968
‘Shakespeare Exhibition’, Stratford-upon-Avon and Edinburgh, 1964
‘The Ship: Key to the World’, Antwerp, 1958
‘The Age of Shakespeare’, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1957-1958
‘Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor’, The New Gallery, London, 1890
‘Exhibition of National Portraits’, South Kensington Museum, London, 1868


Micro 03. Detail of the boy's right eye (7.1…
Micro 04. Detail of the boy's left eye (7.1 x…
Micro 05. Detail of the boy's nose, showing u…
Micro 06. Detail of the boy's lips (7.1 x mag…
Micro 07. Detail of the boy's blue costume, s…
Micro 08. Detail of pearls on Ralegh's tunic…
Micro 11. Detail of red lake glaze outlining…
Micro 12. Detail showing Ralegh's original fl…
Micro 13. Detail of curtain (7.1 x mag).
Micro 14. Remnants of copper green glaze in f…
Micro 17. Detail of the boy's belt (7.1 x mag…
Micro 19. Detail of Ralegh's thumbnail (7.1 x…
Detail 01. Detail of Ralegh's head.
Detail 04. Detail of the boy's head.
Detail 08. Detail of Ralegh's costume.
DIR detail 01. Digital infrared reflectogram…


The canvas has an old glue/paste lining that is in reasonable condition. The original tacking edges have been removed and the lining tacking edges are worn and frayed at the corners. The paint surface has suffered considerable paint loss in the past and there a numerous areas of restoration, both old and more recent. The most recent restoration is poorly matched and lacks definition, especially in Ralegh's face. Photographs taken before retouching show that the remaining original paint has considerably more clarity than the current appearance. Many of the paint losses were restored without filling them first. The surface is very uneven. The varnish is somewhat matt.


Panel condition observations

The canvas has an old glue/paste lining. The adhesion between the original canvas and the lining canvas is good but the tacking edges are weak. The ground and paint layers are in sound condition but have suffered considerable damage in the past. There are numerous small losses as well as areas with larger losses. The upper part of the paint surface is more damaged than the lower part. There is extensive restoration in many parts of the paint surface. Ralegh's head has suffered abrasion and is much restored but the head of his son is in better condition.

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.

Last date of tree ring: n/a


The painting is on a canvas support.

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 considerable damage in the paint surface can be seen clearly in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). There are numerous small paint losses over the entire surface and larger losses in some areas; for example, the condition of Ralegh's face is very poor. Changes made in the head of his son can be seen with x-ray. These include: the line of the left cheek and left part of the chin, which has been moved a little to the right, the left part of collar has been lowered, and the left shoulder line may have been lowered a little.

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.

There is no obvious underdrawing, but black painted lines can be seen around the nose of Raleigh's son (see DIRR detail 01). With surface examination these can be seen beneath the flesh paint. Black lines defining the shoulder decoration can be seen using infrared reflectography but it is not clear whether these are underpainted lines or are part of the upper paint surface. Marks around the nose and hairline might have been made to mark out the position of the features. Many of the areas of restoration can be seen with infrared reflectography. The dark shadow lines in the red curtain and the shadows in the table cloth appear very dark and these have probably been strengthened with restoration.

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 for analysis in July 2011.

There is a grey priming over the chalk ground, which consists of lead white and lamp black. The priming is relatively thick, perhaps three times thicker than the priming found on other paintings.

Flesh on Ralegh's face
Sample 8: Cross-section shows three layers: traces of the chalk ground, the thick grey priming and the flesh layer made with a mixture of vermilion and delicate red lake.

Inscription, ampersand
Sample 9: Cross-section shows the chalk ground, the grey priming and the dark paint of the background, which contains black and red ochre. There is a little yellow ochre on the surface.

Floor tile to right of the son's blue hose
Sample 1: Cross-section shows the chalk ground, the grey priming with a mixed reddish brown layer over it, followed by a thin darker red layer that can be assumed to be the original top layer. There is a good deal of retouching on top of this. The original paint consists of vermilion and translucent red lake. The main line of red is composed of solid red, with vermilion or red ochre. Traces of red lake can be seen beneath.

Son's blue hose
Sample 2: Cross-section shows a thick layer of azurite with a thin lead white layer, which must be from a white stripe. The light stripes may contain smalt; this is not evident in cross-section but dispersion revealed a glassy substance that might be discoloured smalt.

Ralegh's shoe
Sample 6: Dispersion shows the yellow is a mixture of lead white and yellow and brown ochre, and possibly a little lead-based yellow.

Son's Glove
Sample 5: Dispersion shows that the bright yellow is a lead-based yellow.

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 paint surface has suffered considerable damage and there is extensive restoration, particularly in Ralegh's face. Although the original quality of the paint surface, especially in the flesh paint, is compromised by the current condition, it is evident that the straightforward painting technique was skilfully executed.

Preparation layers
The canvas was prepared with a chalk ground and a thick grey priming layer. No underdrawing is evident but there are painted lines marking out elements of the composition.

Due to the extent of damage and loss in the head and face of Ralegh, very little can be observed of the original painting technique in this area (see detail 01). Islands of original paint can be seen through the microscope but these are largely covered with later overpaint (see micro 12). The face of Ralegh's son is in a much better condition (see detail 04) and the initial paint marks laying out the composition can be seen around the features (see micro 05). The painted marks contain a high proportion of black pigment and have been thinly painted over by upper layers allowing them to show through, strengthening areas of shadow. A cool grey layer can be seen beneath the flesh and it is likely that this is the priming layer; however, in x-ray there does also appear to be an underlayer beneath the face of the son marking out the reserve for the face. The flesh paint contains very finely ground vermilion mixed with lead white and differing proportions of red lake and black. Particles of azurite can be seen blended into the shadow around the nose.

Eyes (Ralegh's son)
The irises contain a dark blue pigment, possibly indigo, mixed with earth pigments. The pupil has been blocked in with a dark grey paint and then reinforced with a darker black circle over the top. The whites of the eyes have been painted up and around the irises. Two daubs of thick-bodied lead white paint have been applied to the pupil for highlights. An initial grey layer has been painted in which contains azurite pigment particles. A lighter white has been painted over this to show light reflecting in the eyes. A mixture of vermilion and lead white has been used to mark the corner of the eye. The upper eyelid has been defined using a reddish brown paint mixture. The eyelashes have been painted in black using a fine brush (see micro 03 and micro 04).

Lips (Ralegh's son)
The lips have been painted using a mixture of vermilion and lead white, with a higher concentration of white to depict the fall of light on the lower lip. A brushstroke with a high content of bright vermilion has been used to mark the parting of the lips. This has been emphasised by a line of red lake glaze (see micro 06).

Hair (Ralegh's son)
A thin layer of translucent dark brown paint has been applied to mark areas of the hair that are in shadow. Brushstrokes have been broadly applied over this to show the texture of the hair and highlights. The paint mixture contains earth pigments mixed with lead white.

Ralegh's hat is very worn and abraded and reveals a brown underlayer beneath the main black of the hat. The triangular jewel has been heavily retouched but the original can still be seen. A red glaze was used to depict the ruby, with lead-tin yellow for the setting. The large pearl is abraded but is largely original, with some strengthening. The feathers have been heavily strengthened. The son's hat is also very abraded; an underlayer of black mixed with earth pigments was laid in and shadow and highlights were added over this. The feathers are painted in a translucent reddish brown mix with a high proportion of black pigment.

Ralegh's leather jerkin has a been painted with earth colours, and some of the outlines have been emphasised with a red lake glaze (see micro 11). It is possible that the doublet once had a red lake glaze as a final layer but no evidence of this was found during surface examination. The numerous pearls on the jerkin have been painted in grey mixed with a small amount of azurite (see detail 08 and micro 08). Highlights have been applied in thick-bodied lead white paint and the larger pearls also have a highlight of yellow on them. The shadows of the pearls have been painted in dark brown with traces of red lake. The ruff is very worn and retouched but traces of the original are visible through the microscope and show an underlayer of dark grey. The highlights and folds of the ruff have then been depicted very simply in lead white. The costume of Ralegh's son is painted in a brilliant blue that is remarkably well preserved (see micro 07). The blue is a combination of azurite and smalt, and the details on the costume have been painted in lead white. The belt and sword belt have been painted in white mixed with a small amount of azurite and smalt, and the decoration has been applied in lead white and lead-tin yellow as well as a very bright mustard pigment (see micro 17). The gloves that the son is holding have a passage of very bright yellow paint that appears to be retouching; however, microscope examination revealed that the original paint was also very bright, although it is unclear what the pigment mixture is.

The hands of both father and son are in a reasonable condition. The paint has been broadly and economically applied over the cool grey priming layer. The flesh paint contains very finely ground vermilion mixed with lead white and black in varying proportions (see micro 19). The shadows have been painted in a fluid brown paint and the highlights have been added last in a thick-bodied paint with a high concentration of lead white. Some of the outlines of the hands have been defined with a red lake glaze.

Curtain, tablecloth and floor
The curtain has been painted with a layer of vermilion and lead white, with a higher proportion of lead white for the highlights in the folds of the fabric. A red lake glaze has been applied over the top of this layer (see micro 13). The shadows appear very dark when examined using infrared reflectography, and it seems likely that they have been reinforced. The tablecloth has a much brighter appearance than the red curtain, and contains vermilion mixed with red lake with a low content of lead white. The tiles on the floor would originally have had a much brighter appearance. Traces of copper green and red glazes have been found on the tiles (see micro 14). The glazes appear to have been applied over a thin grey underlayer, which is now more visible due to wear and abrasion.

Order of construction
- Preparation layers
- Brown of the background
- First layer of the curtain
- Flesh
- Grey layer of the ruff
- Blue and brown costume
- Lace in the ruff and details of the costumes
- Hats
- Final glazes of curtain and floor tiles

Azurite, smalt, indigo, vermilion, red lake, earth pigments, copper green, lead-tin yellow, lead white, yellow ochre, earth pigments, carbon black

Restoration observations
The painting has suffered from damage resulting in a significant amount of paint loss, especially in the upper portion of the painting and most notably in the head of Ralegh. The paint layer is very abraded and the bare canvas is visible in many areas. This has led to extensive filling and several campaigns of retouching.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

With ultra violet examination it is evident that the some of the old varnish layers remain where they have been removed unevenly during careful cleaning (see UV 01). There is considerable restoration, which appears dark in ultra violet light. Much of this is quite old, and has a lighter tone, whilst the most recent restoration appears darker.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: 20th century.


Cassetta style frame with stained / painted finish.