Sir Nicholas Throckmorton

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Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton

by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1562
35 3/8 in. x 28 1/2 in. (898 mm x 724 mm)
NPG 3800


Key findings: The previous assertion that the panel is of French origin is unproven by recent analysis, and the handling is Anglo-Netherlandish in style. It is therefore likely that the portrait was painted in England.

Historical summary
This portrait was purchased by the Gallery in June 1951 from Martin Asscher Fine Art, Chelsea. It was previously in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey where it was first recorded in 1727 (Strong, 1969, p.311). It was sold at Christie’s on 19 January 1951 (lot 128) where it was bought by Asscher.

The portrait may have come to be at Woburn due to the fact that Nicholas Throckmorton’s brother, George, married Mary Brydges, sister of Giles, 3rd Lord Chandos, whose wife, Frances Clinton, died when residing at Woburn in 1623. Frances Clinton’s daughter Catherine was the wife of Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford.

Notes on likely authorship
This portrait is one of two near identical versions. The other (in a private collection – see below) is slightly larger and is inscribed: ‘A. D. 1562/ AETATIS SUAE 46’. NPG 3800 was perhaps a second version painted for a family member. Roy Strong suggested that both portraits were painted in France as Throckmorton was in Paris throughout 1562 until March 1562/3 (Strong, 1969, p.311). However, the handling in the National Portrait Gallery version is Anglo-Netherlandish in style and it is likely that the portrait was painted in England.

Commentary on condition, painting style and technique
Many areas of the paint surface are very abraded and have thinly applied layers of restoration, but much of the original surface is intact. The paint in the background is extremely abraded and restored and may have originally been a stronger red. The curtain in the background has suffered from the extensive loss or removal of a copper green glaze and the visible paint in this area is all under-modelling.

The paint surface was built up with a combination of thin layers and thicker, more opaque layers. The pale warm-toned priming is often exposed as the mid-tone. In areas with fine decoration, such as the buttons, sword, dagger handle and purse edge, the paint layers are complex with very fine detail. The brushwork is skilful with wet-in-wet blending and cross-hatching for variations in tone and for detail. A fine-combed tool, dragged wet-in-wet across the brushstrokes, seems to have been used to create the effects in some parts, such as the marbling detail on the Belgian marble, Rouge de Rance column and the very fine parallel lines used for tone and texture in the sword hilt decoration. It is clear that the painter was well trained in Netherlandish paint handling techniques, and interested in using them in complex combinations, some of which can be seen only with microscopy.

Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. The date for the last tree-ring was found to be 1540 which provides a conjectural usage-date of 1548-1580.

Drawing and transfer technique
There are fine lines of underdrawing in a carbon medium in the face, but interestingly there are also lines of preparatory drawing in red paint in the hand and cuff on the left.

Relevance to other known versions
Various other versions are known:
- Private collection (previously owned by E. E. Y. Hales and called Sir Stephen Hales by the family since 1870). This version is nearly identical to NPG 3800 but slightly larger and with the inscription ‘A. D. 1562/ AETATIS SUAE 46’. Seen at the Walker Art Gallery in 1953 where it received some conservation treatment.
- NPG 1492(a): watercolour version by G. P. Harding (early 19th century).
- A copy, on canvas, formerly in the Lucas collection at Wrest Park. Sold at Christie’s on 16 November 1917 and bought by Parsons. Probably the version offered to the gallery by Spink & Son, 1932. Now possibly in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, 1969, pp.311-312


X-ray mosaic 01. X-ray image of the whole pai…
IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 03. Underdrawing beneath the eye on the…
Micro 05. Detail of the cuff, showing red und…
Micro 06. Detail of the background drapery, s…
Micro 07. Edge of the background drapery and…
Micro 08. Detail of the edge of the backgroun…
Micro 08. Detail of the edge of the backgrou…
Micro 09. Detail of the column, showing marbl…
Micro 10. Detail of the sword hilt (7.1 x mag…
Micro 11. Edge of the ear, background and col…
Micro 12. Rope decoration beneath the sword h…
Micro 13. Detail of the handkerchief, showing…
Micro 16. Detail of the sword hilt (7.1 x mag…
Micro 17. Detail of the lips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 18. Detail of the glove (7.1 x mag).
Micro 19. Detail of the ear, showing red lake…
Micro 20. Detail of the marble column (7.1 x…
Micro 21. Fragment of copper green glaze in t…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…

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The paint surface has been well restored, covering a large amount of abrasion. The remaining original paint surface is in good condition. The painting was severely abraded during a previous cleaning campaign (date unknown), particularly in the reddish background where paint was removed to the ground layer. Surface examination and paint sampling show that the background drapery was originally green. The grey which we see on the surface here is the monochrome undermodelling for the folds beneath a copper green glaze (see Surface examination).

The panel has been significantly thinned to approximately 5 mm, exposing two dowels used to join the central and right-hand boards. The exposed dowels can be seen on the reverse. The x-ray suggests that at some point the left-hand board (from the front) has been separated, shaved down and rejoined (see X-ray). The joins have been covered with fabric tape on the reverse. The panel has a markedly uneven convex warp, and the edges of the reverse have been bevelled on all four sides. There are damages at both bottom corners.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 3

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel has been significantly thinned to approximately 5 mm, exposing two dowels used to join the central and right-hand boards. The exposed dowels can be seen on the reverse. The x-ray suggests that at some point, the left-hand board (from the front) has been separated, shaved down and rejoined (see X-ray). The joins have been covered with fabric tape on the reverse. The panel has a markedly uneven convex warp, and the edges of the reverse have been bevelled on all four sides. There are damages at both bottom corners.

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: 1540


The boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front) for analysis. Board C is the narrower of the three boards and it was not felt necessary to analyse this board. The two ring sequences recovered from boards A and B were sufficiently similar that it seems likely that they are derived from parts of the same tree. The ring sequence matches reference data from the eastern Baltic, which seems to disprove Dr Fletcher's assertion in 1977 that the panel is French. Although eastern Baltic boards were widely available in western Europe, and so the panel could have been produced anywhere, the area that uses its native oak for panel paintings the most frequently in this period is France. No sapwood was present on either board examined, which means that a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. The most recent heartwood ring for board A dates from 1540 and 1518 for board B. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings indicates that these boards were derived from a single tree felled after 1548. At 248 mm and 296 mm wide respectively, boards A and B fall within the typical width range for eastern Baltic boards used in panel paintings. As this picture is undated and boards A and B do not seem to have been significantly trimmed prior to use, it is suitable to apply an Eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR- usage range to this panel; this gives a conjectural usage-date range of 1548-1580.

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 vertical wood grain is evident. Wooden dowels can be seen holding the boards of the panel together. One of the dowels on the left-hand join has broken, with only half remaining in the left-hand board. The disruption can be seen on the right-hand board. The painting on either side of the panel join is slightly out of alignment. This is not obvious in the painting due to the join mainly being in the black costume and there is also retouching at the top and bottom. It would seem that at some stage the boards were taken apart and one of the boards shaved down. Broad brushstrokes can be seen across the panel relating to the priming layer. The handling of the paint is very loose with very free brushwork, especially in the hands. Only in the details is the painting technique very precise, for example in the sword hilt and belt. There appears to be a change to the position of the sitter's waist or belt: diagonal lines can be seen slightly higher than the final position of the waist (see x-ray mosaic 01).

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.

Despite identifying a considerable amount of carbon-based underdrawing during surface examination, little was observed using infrared reflectography. A number of lines were noted in the eyes, nose and beard, although they were extremely faint. In the lower eyelids, the drawing material appears to have skipped over the texture of the wood grain, creating a broken line, which suggests that a dry medium was used. In areas where the underdrawing is exposed on the surface of the painting the underdrawing material has the appearance of hard graphite (see Surface examination and micro 03). Other than a single line, seen down the index finger on the hand on the left, no carbon-based underdrawing was seen in the hands (see IRR mosaic 01) (see Surface examination for a discussion of red drawing material in the hands).

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 June 2009.

Preparation layers
Sheldon's results confirm the presence of a chalk ground layer with pale priming above. The priming was found to be largely composed of lead white, with occasional particles of bright red and black. Although particles of azurite were observed during surface examination, none was observed in the limited cross-sections taken.

Samples taken from areas of possible red underdrawing in the hand and cuff on the left were both found to differ slightly. Sample 2, taken from a red line at the edge of the hand, was identified as a strong red ochre, or perhaps even haematite, whereas the red line at the edge of the cuff (sample 3) was identified as a standard red ochre. Smalt was also found to be present in sample 2, either as a drier or colourant to the flesh.

Background drapery
This area was examined in detail by Catherine Hassall in 1998 (see below). Sheldon's observations have confirmed the presence of a copper green glaze over grey monochrome underpainting. Sample 11, taken from the red edge of the background drapery shows the full layer structure and confirms that the red is composed of a mixture of red lake and vermilion, painted directly above the pale priming.

Sample 8, taken from the upper edge of the red background, showed a complex layer structure. There was only a trace of the pale priming layer, with thick layers of reddish brown above. In one part of the sample however, a much purer red paint appears to have been applied below the darker mixture above, which may be the same colour as that seen on the surface in the area directly surrounding the sitter's head. Re-polishing the paint sample showed the paint to be composed of at least four layers of red over the priming. The main body of red is in two layers, the lower being slightly lighter with a greater mixture of pigments including red ochre, black, red lake and lead white. The upper red layer was found to contain mostly red ochre with large particles of charcoal black. No clear separation between the paint layers was observed, which suggests that each layer was painted soon after the other. The complex red layering of the background seems to be original, but its original appearance is not clear.

Belgian red marble column and base
Two dispersions were taken to examine the constituents of the paint in the column (samples 6 and 7). Despite the colour variation from a reddish maroon, to strong purple, both mixtures were found to contain varying proportions of very fine dark red ochre (perhaps haematite), a little red lake, carbon black and large particles of lead white. The mixture used for the base was identified in cross-section (sample 5). It has a pale violet appearance and was found to be composed of the same mixture of black, red ochre, and a larger proportion of lead white.

Two black pigments were identified in the costume. The greyish black, sampled on the button was found to be composed of lamp black (sample 4). A particle of plant black was also found in this sample, which probably originated from the surrounding darker black paint of the costume. The bright reds of the costume were made of good quality dry process vermilion, with very large particles. The red of the button (sample 4) and the red of the sword belt (sample 1) included this vermilion.

Sword hilt and purse
The gold ornaments and sword hilt decoration show a good deal of complexity in the use of different yellows and reds, as well as the skilled handling of paint. Bright yellow highlights were found to have not always been executed in lead-tin yellow, but sometimes in a bright yellow ochre, juxtaposed with a warmer burnt ochre on the sword hilt.

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 was applied with a combination of thin layers and more opaque thicker layers. The brushwork is skilful with very fine blending wet-in-wet and cross-hatching for variations in tone and detail (see micro 07 and micro 10). Many areas of the paint surface are very worn and have thinly applied layers of restoration. The painter was well trained in Netherlandish paint handling techniques and effects, and was interested in using them in complex combinations; these are often only visible with microscopy. Significant abrasion to the surface has meant that much of the subtlety of the original has been lost. Some fine passages remain, such as the sword hilt, indicating the quality of the original surface.

Preparation layers
The panel has a chalk ground layer. Over this there is a white lead-based priming layer which includes occasional particles of red and black. Surface examination of areas of exposed priming suggests that a small amount of azurite is also present in the priming layer.

Black underdrawing is visible on the surface beneath the eye on the right and along the edge of the index finger of the hand on the left. This has the dry sparkly appearance of hard graphite (see Infrared reflectography and micro 03). Further underdrawing in red pigment can be seen in the hand and cuff on the left (see micro 05 and Paint sampling). Again, this is very fine and appears to have been applied using a liquid medium.

A large number of lead soaps are visible on the paint surface, which probably originate from the lead-based priming.

The flesh was painted with several thin layers containing lead white, vermilion and black particles. Due to the thin nature of the upper paint layers, the pale priming is visible on the surface and was used as a mid-tone in the painting process. Red lake has been used to achieve an area of deep shadow in the ear and lips (see micro 17 and micro 19). The paint in the face is abraded and restored.

The white highlights in the eyes have a spot of pale blue/green paint which does not appear to be original (see micro 01).

The costume was painted with a warm brown layer, containing good quality, dry process vermilion with a thin grey layer applied over it with broad cross-hatched brushstrokes. The black horizontal bands were applied thinly with very dense plant black. The grey pattern detail was applied with thicker, more opaque paint containing white and lamp black (see Paint sampling).

Collar and cuffs
Grey paint was thinly applied over the warm priming, leaving it exposed in many areas. The exposed priming layer acts as a mid-tone here, giving the impression of flesh beneath the thin fabric, particularly in the cuffs. Opaque white and pale grey were used for highlights, and thin black paint was used to define details and the edge of the collar and cuffs (see micro 05).

The paint was thinly applied above the pale priming using earth pigments. In areas of shadow, the paint was more thickly applied, and subtle textures in the paint were achieved by lifting the brush at the end of the brushstroke in thicker passages (see micro 18).

Sword, dagger handle and purse
The light, warm priming layer was used for mid-tones and depth. Detailed and varied brushwork was used to create effects. Very fine lines of black brushstrokes, used for tone and texture, are visible beneath a thin warm grey layer on the knob at the top of the sword hilt. Much of this was applied wet-in-wet (see micro 10). The gold highlights were more thickly painted in lead-tin yellow and white. The lead-tin yellow was applied using short precise brushstrokes, which were blended, cross-hatched and laid in using parallel strokes to achieve textural effects (see micro 16). A bright yellow ochre was used alongside lead-tin yellow for highlights (see micro 12), with burnt ochre and lead-tin yellow in the sword hilt.

A reserve was left for the handkerchief when the black costume paint was applied. The white handkerchief, seen at the top of the purse, was painted into this reserve and over the black paint beneath it. This is very clear where the paint has become more transparent and a little abraded. The pale pink priming can be seen at the edge of the reserve (see micro 13). Blackwork embroidery at the edge of the handkerchief has been abraded.

Background drapery
Paint sampling and surface examination shows that the background drapery (now grey) was originally a rich green. Paint samples from residual microscopic green passages show a thick transparent layer of copper green glaze directly above a grey underlayer. The grey that we see on the surface today is the original underpainting, present beneath the glaze. Traces of copper green can be seen throughout the drapery using microscopy (see micro 06 and micro 08). It is likely that the glaze was subject to a natural degradation process, causing its visual appearance to alter dramatically. Surviving paint fragments do not show evidence of darkening, as is commonly seen with aged copper green glazes. Instead, when viewed under high magnification, the paint fragments have a fine fractured appearance, with light scattering within the paint layer (see micro 21). On a large scale, this is likely to have created a mottled, white character to the green, and may explain why it was lost or removed. Although such a form of copper green degradation is not yet understood, a similar phenomenon has recently been observed on a painting currently undergoing conservation at the National Gallery, London (Venusti NG 1227 'The Holy Family' (Il Silenzio) c.1565). The grey underpainting in NPG 3800 was broadly applied using thin paint above the warm priming layer, which was left exposed as a mid-tone. The grey is composed of a mixture of black and white pigments, used in varying proportions for highlights and shadows (see micro 07). The edge of the drapery in the upper left-hand corner was created using lead-tin yellow above red lake and vermilion (see micro 08). Another version of this painting, currently in a private collection, was painted with tassels running along the lower hanging edge of the drapery. Surface examination has not found any evidence of similar decoration on the NPG version.

The column was painted to look like the red Belgian marble, Rouge de Rance. It was thinly painted above the warm priming layer using flat applications of colour. The marbled effect was achieved using broad brushstrokes in varying tones of red paint. Pure white was then scraped across the surface for the pale marble vein using a hard, flat tool (see micro 20). White and grey paint , loosely mixed on the brush, was then applied in a number of lines using an extremely fine brush for the white marble vein at the left edge. These brushstrokes were then blended by dragging a slightly flexible flat, combed tool across the wet paint to create an evenly feathered effect (see micro 09). The paint appears minutely stepped as if it was dragged with a tool with tubular teeth or spines. The portion of red column visible in the upper left is heavily restored. The original column and base are composed of varying proportions of very fine dark red ochre, a little red lake, carbon black and lead white.

Background on right side
The background in the upper right-hand corner of the painting is heavily abraded and the layer structure of the original paint is complex. Using microscopy, a halo of bright red above a darker red can be seen around the head and cartellino. A photomicrograph taken at the edge of the head, collar and background, shows the bright red layer present above the rust colour which is seen in the majority of this area (see micro 11). However, paint sample 8, taken from a different area of background, shows a different layer structure, with similar bright red beneath the darker rust-coloured red containing red ochre and carbon black (see Paint sampling). The same sample also shows the background was worked up in at least four layers, none of which show any degree of separation, varnish or dirt layer between. This suggests that each of the red paint layers in this area were applied contemporaneously. On the basis of technical evidence, it appears that the layering of the red background is original, although it is possible that the brighter red seen around the sitter's head may have extended further in to the background; this is not clear. Lead soaps can be seen on the surface throughout.

The cartellino is not original and is similar to the one on NPG 3792. Both of these paintings were purchased from the Duke of Bedford's collection at Woburn Abbey, where it is thought the cartellini were applied.

Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Priming
- Underdrawing
- Flesh
- Beard and hair
- Modelled underlayer for background drapery and first layer/s of background applied
- Belgian red marble column was laid in, with marble vein details added above
- Collar and cuffs were laid in with grey shadows, followed by black detail around the edges of the fabric
- Black costume and hat
- White highlights for collar and cuffs applied
- Glove
- Brighter red in background around head applied
- Buttons, chain, pendant, purse, sword and dagger
- Base of column in lower left
- Green glaze applied above the modelled grey underlayer in background drapery
- Non-original cartellino

Restoration observations
The considerable wear in the paint surface has been well restored, and the remaining original paint surface is in good condition. The panel has been thinned significantly and the boards have been disjoined and rejoined.

Lead white, black, vermilion, red ochre, copper green glaze, earth pigments (including very good quality yellow ochre), lead-tin yellow, red lake, azurite (in priming layer), smalt

Changes to composition/pentimenti
The tip of the handkerchief was extended over the black costume, outside the reserve that was initially left for it. Abrasion and an increase in the transparency of the paint film over time have made this apparent (see micro 13).

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

In ultra violet light remnants of greenish fluorescing natural resin varnish can be seen in the dark drapery and lower right-hand corner. This has a smeared appearance, where it has been partially removed and disturbed during cleaning. The most recent varnish has a slight bluish hue, and recent restorations are evident; particularly down the left hand join and in the face (see UV 01). The painted red lake passage at the edge of the background drapery has a slight orange fluorescence in ultra violet light, suggesting that it is composed of a madder lake.


Frame type: Not original. Reverse profile frame, parcel gilt.

Frame date: Late 20th century.