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Sir Francis Walsingham

1 portrait matching 'NPG 1807'

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Sir Francis Walsingham

attributed to John De Critz the Elder
oil on panel, circa 1589
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm)
NPG 1807


A skilfully painted version of the most widely circulated portrait type of Elizabeth I’s spymaster.

The portrait is recorded in the collection of the 2nd Earl of Hardwick at Wrest Park by Pennant in 1782. Lady Lucas of Wrest Park sold it at Christie’s on 16 November 1917 (lot 94) where it was bought by Leggatt Brothers and subsequently by the National Portrait Gallery in 1918.

Historical context
Sir Francis Walsingham was appointed Elizabeth I’s principal secretary and a member of the privy council in 1573; he was knighted on 1 December 1577 and received the honorific dignity of the chancellorship of the Order of the Garter on 22 April 1578.

Walsingham is depicted wearing a cameo portrait of the queen in profile; these were often given to courtiers by the queen and a number survive, one of the largest of which is in the Royal Collection (RCIN 65186).

Notes on attribution
An early engraving of this portrait in Henry Holland’s Heroologia (1620) is annotated ‘Jo: de Critz’. The attribution is supported by the fact that John de Critz is known to have worked for Walsingham between 1582 and 1588.

Justification for dating
This portrait is likely to post-date Walsingham’s surrender of the chancellorship of the Garter to Sir Amias Paulet on 15 June 1587 because he is depicted wearing a cameo of the queen, rather than the medal of chancellor that is he is depicted wearing in portraits at Kingston Lacy and King’s College Cambridge. The sitter also looks noticeably older than in his other portrait type, which appears to date from the late 1570s (NPG 1704). A bust-length version of the portrait at Ingatestone is dated 1589 and it is likely that the portrait type was produced at around this date. The techniques and materials in use are appropriate for a work of this date; dendrochronological analysis showed that the panel is made from a tree that was felled after 1580.

The portrait has been cut down along the lower edge and probably on the left edge as well; it is likely that it originally had similar proportions to the other surviving versions. The support is very fragile due to woodworm damage along the right-hand panel join, and the painting has suffered loss in the dark costume down the join. There is further restoration across many parts of the paint surface. The inscription to the left of the head: ‘Sr Francis Walsingham Kt’, was revealed during conservation treatment in 1983; however, it covers cracks in the paint layer below, which indicates that it is a later addition.

Painting technique
X-radiography revealed elements of another composition beneath the portrait. There is a pot beneath the costume in the lower-right corner, the upper part of two books can be seen beneath the paint to the right of the cameo, and there are light areas in the background to the right of the head with drying cracks in the paint surface where the background paint has dried over the layer beneath. These are painted in a broad brushy style and may relate to an earlier composition on the panel. It is also possible that the panel support was made from fragmentary offcuts; however, it seems unlikely that these would have been painted.

The paint is skilfully handled with very subtle wet-in-wet blending and detail.
For example, the eyelashes were created with small, feathered brushstrokes of varied tones, executed with notable skill; this portrait is one of the very few examined during the course of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project in which the eyelashes are described. The fabric is convincingly handled, with thinly applied paint layers.

Drawing and transfer technique
The principal elements in the face were outlined with thick dark underdrawing, and it is clear that these reinforce a traced pattern. Infrared reflectography reveals light marks in the face that do not have an obvious role and these may relate to elements of the composition that appears to lie beneath the portrait.

Other known versions
The surviving portraits of Sir Francis Walsingham all depict a very similar face; however, contrary to Strong’s assertion that these all derive from a single source, it appears that there are at least two, and possibly three, types.
The other types are:
- King’s College, Cambridge (purchased Sotheby’s 25th February 1925 (lot 77)), dated 1587, facing right and NPG 1704
- Kingston Lacy (National Trust) – further research needs to be undertaken to assess the relationship between this portrait and the two listed above - NT 1257219

A number of versions of this portrait type survive:
- Yale Center for British Art (previously sold Christie’s 10th July 1931(lot 107), with Leggatt Brothers 1966), with chair - B1981.25.217
- Bisham Abbey (the late Mrs Elizabeth Paget)
- Sotheby’s Colonnade London, 27 September 1994 (lot 6), with chair
- Formerly in the collection of Lord Wharton (dated 1589; sold Christie’s 17th November 1948 (lot 72) and probably again 11th November 1949 (lot 127)), with chair
- Sotheby’s, 21 March 1979 (lot 42) (ex. coll. John Colville Esq.; ex. coll. Lord Houghton)
- Lord Petre, Ingatestone Hall, bust length, oval, dated 1589
- Knole (National Trust), part of a set, bust length, oval
- Sudeley Castle (Mrs Dent-Brocklehurst), bust length, reversed
- Ampleforth (Denmore loan), head and shoulders, reversed
- Royal Collection, RCIN406189
- Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service: Colchester Collection, by John Lewis Reilly
- Knole, National Trust, NT 129771

Edmond, Mary, ‘Limners and Picturemakers’, The Walpole Society, 47, 1978-1980, pp. 140-162
Hearn, Karen, ed., Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, 1995, pp. 173-4
Lane Poole, R., 'An Outline of the History of the de Critz Family of Painters', The Walpole Society. II, 1912-13, pp. 46-48
Rae, Caroline, ‘Anglo-Netherlandish Workshop Practice in the 1580s and early 1600s with a focus on the works of John de Critz the Elder and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’, unpublished PhD thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2015
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, 1969, pp. 320-2
Town, Edward, ‘De Critz, John, ‘the elder’’, in ‘A Biographical Dictionary of London Painters, 1547-1625’, The Walpole Society, 76, 2014, pp. 65-68

Exhibition history
‘Armada 1588-1988’, National Maritime Museum and Ulster Museum, Belfast, 1988-1989
‘The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540-1620’, Tate Gallery, London, 1969-1970


Micro 01. Detail of the eye on the left (7.1…
Micro 02. Detail of the eye on the right (7.1…
Micro 03. Detail showing the pigment mixture…
Micro 04. Detail showing texturing and blendi…
Micro 05. Detail of the lips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 07. Detail of eyebrow (7.1 x mag).
Micro 08. Detail of beard (7.1 x mag).
Micro 09. Detail of background and later insc…
Micro 10. Detail of ruff extending over backg…
Micro 11. Detail of paint handling to show li…
Micro 12. Detail of fur collar (7.1 x mag).
Micro 13. Detail of costume (7.1 x mag).
Micro 14. Detail of button (7.1 x mag).
Micro 15. Detail of cuff (7.1 x mag).
Micro 17. Detail of portrait on pendant (7.1…
Micro 18. Detail of pendant setting and jewel…
Micro 19. Detail of pearl on pendant (7.1 x m…
Micro 20. Detail of azurite in pearl (63 x ma…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…
Reverse 01. Back of the panel in raking light…

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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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There is a recurring problem with the extremely fragile right-hand panel join where the wood has suffered woodworm damage and there is a history of filling and repair. There is scattered restoration in the dark costume in areas which have suffered repeated flaking and paint loss, and some restoration in the face. There are thick varnish layers and the most recent varnish layer has a slightly sprayed appearance.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 3

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The join on the left has been strengthened at the back with a strip of canvas attached with glue and remains stable. The join on the right side has been repaired repeatedly but still remains fragile and vulnerable. The join is affected by movement during handling and by changes of environment, which have caused small losses of filling and restoration material on several occasions. There is woodworm damage down the right-hand edge of the panel. Holes are most noticeable to the right of the top and bottom edges but are also evident down the back of the panel. There are three repaired splits at the top of the central board. There are old nail holes at the top of the back of the panel; the hole at the top in the centre is evidently connected to a hanging or framing method, but the role of the other holes is not clear.

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: 1572


The boards were labelled A to C (from the front) for analysis. The tree-ring series from the three boards do not match each other. The sequences have some unusual growth trends in them, and the two outer boards contain fairly short series. The three individual board series were found to match eastern Baltic reference data. The last heartwood rings date to 1572, 1568 and 1563. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that these boards were derived from trees felled after 1580. Board B is a typical width for an eastern Baltic board and there is little chance that it was significantly trimmed; it is therefore appropriate to apply an eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR-usage range to this panel, which gives a conjectural usage-date range of 1580-1612.

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.

X-ray shows an earthenware pot in the bottom right corner beneath the costume, and the upper part of two upright books can be seen to the left of the pot, beneath the paint to the right of Walsingham's pendant jewel (see x-ray mosaic 01). These passages are painted in a broad brushy style and appear to be remnants from another composition that was previously planned for the panel. The panel has been cut, after the portrait was painted, along the bottom and and the side edges. The slightly uneven edges can be seen in x-ray and the small chips in the paint along the edges are also evident. Light opaque marks can be seen in the background to the left of the head and beneath the head. The role of these is not clear but rounded shapes with drying cracks can be seen in the paint surface over the marks in the background where the background paint has dried over the paint layer beneath. The wood grain and the considerable damage and repair down the right join can be seen in x-ray.

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.

Thick dark lines of underdrawing can be seen using infrared reflectography (see DIRR 01). These clearly outline the facial features and it seems evident that they are reinforcing a traced pattern. Light marks can be seen in the face that do not have an obvious role in the painting. These could be related to elements of a previous composition that appears to lie beneath the portrait (see X-ray).

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 November 2011.

The wood panel was prepared with a thick chalk ground containing some carbon black. A priming layer was not obvious in cross-sections but sample 4 seems to indicate that there is a very thin priming layer.In dispersion, sample 1 from the eye on the left shows black underdrawing beneath flesh. The black was very intense in transmitted light, but shiny in reflective light, and is thought to be graphite from the intensity of the black line.

Sample 2: From the edge of painting where the glossy black lies over the duller, dark grey of the sleeve. It is difficult to see two layers of black in cross-section; above the chalk ground there is a thin layer containing bright colours: azurite or verdigris, and red and yellow ochres. This is the base layer for the sleeve. The black sleeve paint lies over this layer. Dispersion of the black from the coat shows that azurite is present, presumably from the underlayer. There is also a translucent, low reflective index, colourless pigment attached to the black, which does not appear to be smalt.

Flesh paint in the hand
Sample 3: Cross-section shows the chalk ground with a dark layer above that might be part of the underlying dark costume; the dark layer is a mixture of black and red ochre. The flesh paint above it is a mixture of lead white and vermilion and dispersion shows there is a high proportion of vermilion. The white top layer appears to be restoration.

Red table cloth, lower left corner
Sample 4: Cross-section shows the chalk ground, with a slight pale priming layer and the red paint layer above. Dispersion shows that the red is a mixture of vermilion and red lake.

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 painting has suffered from ongoing flaking and as a consequence there is a considerable amount of retouching across the surface.

Preparation layers
The panel has been prepared with a chalk ground and a pale priming layer. Underdrawing in a grey sparkly material is visible in certain areas through the paint layers.

The underdrawing is clearly visible beneath the flesh paint layers. The shadows in the hollows of the cheeks appear to have been applied first in a thin brown layer directly over the priming. The flesh paint has then been applied over this layer. The flesh paint contains finely ground red lake and vermilion mixed with black, lead white and also a little yellow (see micro 03). Shadowing around the features has been blended into lighter areas of paint and contains a higher proportion of black, red lake and larger particles of opaque red. Some areas, such as the shadows around the earlobe, have been emphasised with red lake. The flesh has been subtly blended wet-in-wet, with the brushstrokes following the contours of the face and features. A stiff tool has been used to create texturing and marks in the flesh (see micro 04). The form of the lips is suggested beneath the moustache and the paint layer contains a high proportion of red lake. A thin line of red lake has been used to mark the parting of the lips, with a second grey line of paint loosely applied over the top (see micro 05).

The irises have been painted in a dark grey, with strokes of a lighter grey paint applied in lines radiating out from the pupil and loosely blended to show the patterning of the eye. The pupil has been defined with a thin paint mixture composed of black mixed with a little opaque red. This dense black has been very freely and loosely applied in small dabs, rather than in a regular circle as commonly used to depict the pupil (see micro 01 and micro 02). The highlights of the eye have been applied in two stages. Firstly, a fluid pale grey paint has been applied, followed by a dab of thicker bodied lead white paint. The whites of the eyes have been applied very thinly, in small textured brushstrokes blending pale grey with white that are slightly blended into the edges of the irises. The corners of the eyes have been emphasised with vermilion mixed into the wet flesh paint in these areas. Over this, a translucent reddish brown glaze has been applied containing red lake, opaque red and black. This paint mixture has also been used to create shadow at both ends of the upper eyelids in large freely applied dots. There is some dragging of the grey iris paint into the flesh paint, although it is unclear if this was deliberate. The eyelashes on the upper eyelids have been created by dragging flesh paint down in small, feathered brushstrokes. Texture has also been used to define the eyelashes with small dabs of flesh paint applied along the lid. Thin lines of translucent grey paint mark out the eyelashes along the lower eyelid.

Eyebrows, moustache, beard and hair
A reserve has been left for the eyebrows and in areas the priming layer is visible. The eyebrows have been built up with strokes of paint brushed into the surrounding flesh paint while it was still wet (see micro 07). A deep black paint has been applied for the inner most part of the eyebrow. Strokes of grey and white have been built up over this, becoming more translucent at the outer edges. The beard, moustache and hair have been handled in a similar manner, with multiple brushstrokes of the same width applied to create the texture of hair convincingly. The hair is predominantly brown, with strokes of black and white blended into it. Lighter highlights have been applied to indicate light falling onto the hair. The hair has been applied over the dry paint layers of the flesh and ruff (see micro 08).

The hat is painted with black mixed with earth pigments and a little opaque red to add warmth. The slight shadow of the hat where it meets the forehead is denser black but also contains large particles of lead white.

There is a significant amount of retouching in the ruff. The initial grey background layer can be seen to extend into the area of the ruff, with the upper background layer painted up and around it (see micro 10). Using infrared reflectography, an odd-shaped reserve can be seen in the area (see DIR 01). The edging has been painted in a thicker bodied paint containing lead white.

Black costume and fur collar
The costume has a grey/brown base layer containing earth pigments and black mixed with a small amount of lead white. Details of the cloth and folds in the fabric have been painted with thin layers of grey, translucent black and thicker lead white paint for highlights (see micro 13 and micro 14). There are numerous small circular losses in the darker passages of paint, which are likely to relate to lead soap formation. The fur collar visible beneath the ruff has been quickly applied in a brushy manner (see micro 12). A thin translucent underlayer has been laid in with thicker opaque brushstrokes applied over the top.

The cuff of the hand on the left has been cut down but what remains is in a very good condition and is skilfully executed. The shadows have been beautifully modelled and subtle texture has been created by dragging the paint and wet-in-wet blending (see detail 15). The lace details have been applied in a thick-bodied lead white paint.

No reserve has been left for the pendant. It has been painted directly over the brown underlayer of the costume and the costume details have been painted up and around it. This technique gives the illusion of the transparent material used for the cameo. The portrait on the pendant is finely modelled in thin layers of white, with translucent black glazes for the shadows (see micro 17). There is some wear and abrasion on the pendant and as a result there are a few areas of retouching. Lead-tin yellow and lead white have been used to depict the gold setting and the highlights on the black jewels (see micro 18). The pearl is painted with fine brushstrokes and has a small amount of azurite blended into the highlights (see micro 19 and micro 20).

Background and inscription
The background has been applied in two layers. The upper layer can be seen to slightly cover the edges of the hat paint. The background contains earth pigments mixed with black and lead white with small quantities of large yellow pigment particles and a finely ground opaque red. The inscription has been painted in a very fluid, thin black paint layer (see micro 09). The lettering is not convincingly handled and the paint covers cracks in the paint layer below, indicating that it is likely to be a later addition.

Order of construction
- Initial background layer
- Flesh
- Fur collar
- Ruff
- Moustache, beard and hair
- Hat
- Brown underlayer of costume
- Red tablecloth
- Costume details and pendant
- Cuffs
- Upper background layer

Azurite, lead-tin yellow, earth pigments, yellow ochre, red ochre, vermilion, red lake, black, lead white, carbon black

Changes in composition/pentimenti
The books that are visible at the lower edge of the painting in the x-ray may have originally been intended as part of the composition, or they may suggest that the panel was reused. There is no sign of them on the surface of the painting.

Restoration observations
There is a continuous history of filling and repair down the very fragile right-hand join. The surface of the varnish has a slightly sprayed appearance.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

Old varnish layers fluoresce green over the whole of the painting in ultra violet light (see UV 01). Old retouchings are visible beneath the thick varnish layer, most notably in the face. There is a darker border around the edge of the panel, which may just be where the uppermost varnish does not extend to the very edge. More recent retouchings appear dark in ultra violet light and sit on top of the old varnish layers. The recent retouchings are extensive in the right-hand panel join and there is also strengthening of the pattern in the costume in this area. Smaller areas of retouching are scattered across the dark costume in areas that have suffered from repeated flaking and loss. There is also some strengthening of the inscription in the top-left corner.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: 20th century


Ebonised, reverse moulding frame with a gilt sight edge and a row of gilded bead-and-stick at the outer edge.