Sir Nicholas Poyntz
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Sir Nicholas Poyntz
after Hans Holbein the Younger
oil on paper, mounted onto panel, circa 1530-1599
16 1/4 in. x 11 1/2 in. (415 mm x 292 mm)
Purchased at Sotheby’s on 11 July 1983, lot 39. The previous provenance is unknown.
Notes on likely authorship
The portrait is a good version after a lost portrait by Holbein from the mid 1530s, for which the drawing survives in the Royal Collection.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The portrait is painted on paper attached to oak panel but it is not clear whether the paper was attached to the panel before paint was applied. The uncovered wood along the top, where the paper and paint do not extend to the edge suggests that perhaps the paper was not originally attached to the panel. The laid lines in the paper can be seen in infrared light.
The paint surface varies in texture. It is mostly thinly painted, with finely ground pigments in the flesh and subtle soft blending and fine brushstrokes in the ear, eyelid and beard hairs. The hat feather is painted in a similar way. However, the decorations on the hat are painted unusually thickly, with coarsely ground pigment piled up densely to create texture.
It is not certain whether the background was originally intended to be blue or whether the blue is a base for a green glaze, now lost.
Justification for dating
Dendrochronological analysis suggests that the tree used to make the oak panel was felled after 1580.
Drawing and transfer technique
The eye and the profile definitely appear to have been traced, and other lines also have the appearance of tracing. The profile appears to have been outlined carefully. Lines in the hair and in the ear can be seen with infrared reflectography. Some lines appear finer in infrared light than the painted lines.
Relevance to other known versions
- the original Holbein drawing on which this portrait is based is now in the Royal Collection. It is drawn using black and coloured chalk on paper, and is smaller in size. RCIN 912234
- a good copy of the painting is recorded as being in the collection of the Earl of Harrowby, Sandon Hall, Stafford. This version was formerly at Cowdray House and was passed to Isabella, Marchioness of Exeter, daughter of William Poyntz.
- a version formerly in the collection of George Rushout, 3rd Baron Northwick (1811-1887) of Northwick Park, Gloucestershire came up for sale at Sotheby’s on 13 June 2002, lot 2. It was offered for sale again at Sotheby’s on 28 November 2002, lot 140 and again on 27 November 2003, lot 128.
- another version is recorded in the Sotheby’s (Suffolk) sale-room on 11-12 June 1996, lot 428. The provenance of this version is unclear but it had been listed by George Vertue as ‘at Lord Hervey’s in Grosvener Street’ in 1743.
- a version is recorded as being in the Collection of the Marquess of Bristol and at Lulworth Manor (although the latter has now been sold).
- Offered for sale at Christie’s on 11 July 2008, lot 20
- Ickworth, National Trust, 851995
There are known to be at least two miniature versions of the painting:
- in an oval format, in the Ethel Hughes Collection, New York
- in a rectangular format on vellum, said to be by Isaac Oliver after Holbein (c. 1595), was offered for sale at Sotheby’s on 7 March 1983, lot 18 from the collection of Sir George Lindsay Holford who purchased it at Christie’s on 13 July 1927, lot 118
Sotheby's, 11th July 1983, p. 42 (lot 39)
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The panel is in a stable condition. There is a slight warp and the lost knot at the back has been filled. The paper is detaching in raised bubbles in some areas (see Support). Some parts of the paint surface in the flesh, background and costume are thin and rather abraded. Abraded areas have been integrated with restoration and there are a few restored losses. Areas containing mostly lead pigments, such as the ear, the feather in the hat and the jewelled decorations on the hat, are in good condition. The varnish is rather matt and contains small raised undissolved particles, but is otherwise reasonably saturating. There is a small cleaning test, or disturbance caused by a drip of solvent, at the left edge just below the level of the mouth.
Number of boards: 1
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
There is a knot in the wood about two-thirds of the way through the sequence of growth rings. There is a fault line running down the panel where a knot is missing. The knot has been repaired with saw dust and Resin W (PVA). The fault and the knot have led to problems with the surface because this area of the panel moves differently from the rest. The paper is raised down the fault line, running down from the hat to the back of the collar. There are raised bubbles in this area and at the right edge, where the paper has become detached from the wood support. There is some movement in some of the raised bubbles, especially in the two at the right edge of the painting. There is an old repaired tear in the paper at the left edge to the left of the eye.
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: 1
Last date of tree ring: 1572
The single board was measured and found to match Eastern Baltic reference data. No sapwood was present at the outermost edges of the boards and, therefore a terminus post quem can be applied. The date of the last heartwood ring was identified as 1572 and adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that the tree cannot have been felled before 1580.
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 seems to indicate a change to the shape or position of the nose. The wood grain is clearly visible and is straight in most of the board but the lines are uneven to the right of the knot area. Damages can be seen down the panel fault/split in the knot and around the edges. Very many tiny old losses can be seen in the face. The medallions on the hat are very light and opaque in the x-ray, indicating that they might be painted with lead-tin yellow. Faint horizontal brushstrokes - especially visible in the hat and ear - could be associated with a priming/preparation layer. The white and yellow highlights in the feather, hat, collar and jacket are clearly visible in the x-ray (see x-ray 01).
Two small similar shapes are visible in the lower-right section of the x-ray image, evidently containing lead white. It is not clear whether these are part of the original composition or were present on the paper before any other paint layers were applied. Paint sample analysis shows a grey layer over these which might be the priming, or might be part of painted out decoration.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
The laid lines in the paper support can be seen in infrared reflectography, which also revealed horizontal brushstrokes that are probably in the priming. There is possible underdrawing in the centre of the ear - infrared reflectography detected a line not visible on the paint surface. At the edges of the feathers and the lower part of the upper edge, the lines in infrared reflectography looked finer than the painted lines. Some lines were also detected in the hair, and the profile appears to have been outlined carefully. The eye and profile definitely appear to be traced, and the other lines also have the appearance of tracing (see IRR mosaic 01).
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 2008.
A grey priming layer was found in all samples, consisting of lead white, carbon black, red ochre and possibly a little red lead.
The original background paint seems to be a thick layer of intense green, both on the surface and in cross-section. The green resembles green verditer (synthetic copper carbonate) but has been identified as azurite (natural copper carbonate).
Sample 1: Azurite with rather rounded, even-sized pigment particles, which resemble blue verditer at a glance; some are very large and brilliant blue. In dispersion the proportions are angular and rounded. Variation in particle sizes are probably due to the grinding method rather than a separation method such as levigation and washing. The larger blue particles can sometimes be seen on the surface. Dispersions were made.
Sample 3: Lead-tin yellow similar to sample 9. A large lead soap can be seen in the cross-section, with some associated red lead.
Sample 5: There is an important question concerning whether the background was originally intended to be blue or whether the blue was a base for a green glaze, but tiny scattered particles of yellow may be accidental.
Sample 6: Shows a layer of white below the black. No apparent separation or time gap between the white raised areas beneath and the black paint. The white is mostly lead white with traces of chalk. The grey layer which separates them might be priming, or be part of a painted out raised decoration. A trace of Prussian blue shows that it is partly retouched.
Sample 7: The greyish black paint in the centre of the hat badge might be blackened red lead, or the underlying paper (impregnated with medium) may be giving the warm tone under the very thin paint layer.
The central decoration of the hat badge is also lead-tin yellow, piled less high. The pale blue appearance of the centre of the badge may be caused by exposure of the grey priming.
Sample 8: The yellow has characteristics of yellow ochre. Dark shadow beneath may be discoloured medium. A well-defined translucent line is visible between the blue background paint and inscription.
Sample 9: Unusually thick application of lead-based paint is loaded onto the edges of the hat badge. It has characteristic inclusions of lead-tin yellow but might be bulked out by another substance. Dispersion shows very large colourless particles, oblong and opalescent. The yellow appears to be lead-tin yellow: energy dispersive x-ray analysis detected only lead, tin and carbon. The yellow also contains small amounts of orange paint, possibly red lead, intended to give a closer imitation of gold to the cool coloured lead-tin yellow.
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
Comparison of the painting with the drawing in the Royal Collection was made difficult by the difference in size: the drawing is much smaller than NPG 5583. However, comparisons made by eye with some distance between the two melinex tracings indicated that the profiles and eye match, although the ear does not, and the back of the head is greatly enlarged in the painting.
The paint is generally thin, the thickest parts are the whites and the highlights. The pigment particles in the thicker part of the paint mixture seem fairly coarsely ground and mixed. The flesh paint has suffered wear and small losses through micro-flaking. There are fine cracks in the white feather, and fine drying cracks in the browns and blacks which have become more evident due to abrasion. Fine age cracks run horizontally in the flesh, in the ear and in the face under the lower lip. Due to the presence of the paper the craquelure is not typical of a panel painting.
The portrait is painted on paper (laid lines in the paper can be seen with infrared reflectography) attached to the wood support. Some of the wood has been left uncovered along the top edge of the panel surface where the paper and paint does not extend evenly to the top edge. There is an old tear in the paper running in from the edge in the upper-left background. The scoop tool marks (see Support) on the surface of the panel indicate that the panel has not been prepared for painting, and therefore, that the paper was not attached to the panel before painting.
There is no apparent chalk ground. There is a dark grey priming layer (see Paint sampling). This can be seen in thinly painted areas, such as under the feather and in areas where it has been exposed by wear. It seems to vary in tone and appears darker under the flesh but this may be due to abrasion. There is a chipped loss at the bottom left where the wood support, the fibrous paper and grey ground can all be seen (see micro 18).
The ear and the profile are underdrawn (see Infrared reflectography). There is some visible underdrawing in small losses in the line between the lips (see micro 20). The underdrawing, visible with microscopy, has a sparkle which is characteristic of graphite.
Paint layer structure
Face, eyes, hair
The flesh paint is pitted and small spots of dark ground show through. This appears to be caused by micro-flaking, or possibly the texture of the paper. The cheek and nose are badly pitted, the ear and neck are in better condition. Some of the losses reveal the paper (see micro 05).
The pigments in the flesh paint are difficult to assess, but the mixture seems to contain orangey red particles and some of another, less orange, red. Black particles can also be seen, but no blue is present. All particles are very small and there are lots of transparent inclusions. No blue pigment was observed in the white of the eye (see micro 01). The line between the lips does not seem to be pure red lake as was found in other paintings (see micro 04). There is subtle blending in the ear, using glazes to create shadow, and also dragging the flesh paint with a brush to soften the edges of lines (see micro 07). Wet-in-wet blending is also used in the eyelid (micro 01). The eyebrow (see micro 02) and moustache are smoothly blended with lots of soft feathery individual brushstrokes. There is very delicate brushwork for the dark individual hairs in the beard (see micro 06). The beard appears to have been painted before the white collar as no hairs overlap onto it.
The hair appears to be somewhat worn and has lost some detail, but was originally painted as an area of brown, with individual hairs and further detail painted over this in different shades. The hair was painted before the feather, for which a reserve was left (see micro 14).
Hat and feather
The feather is painted confidently, with a similar structure to the hair: there is an overall application of thin grey, with the individual strands painted over the edge of the hat, and thicker white strands painted last (see micro 11). Where they overlap the hat, the paint has become more transparent and here appears grey.
The decorations on the hat are painted unusually thickly, with densely pigmented paint creating texture (see micro 08, micro 09 and micro 10). The pigment is piled up densely in a way which suggests there may be some added bulking material. Large colourless particles were present in the paint sample dispersion but energy dispersive x-ray analysis detected only lead, tin and carbon. The paint seems to be lead-tin yellow. There are some small particles of orange, which might be red lead,added to give the cool lead-tin yellow a closer imitation of gold (See Paint sampling). In the badge to the left of the feather, the main shape is painted with a mixture which contains lead-tin yellow and a red, but the 's' shape in the badge is painted with lead-tin yellow only. The dark colour beneath and around this shape appears blue but this may be blackened red lead. It is exhibiting some blanching/deterioration of the medium. A slightly pale blue appearance to the very centre of the badge may be due to the grey priming. The greyish 'pearls' are also painted with a blue pigment. The bead shapes were created by leaving gaps in the black paint. The details at the lower edge of the hat are also painted with lead-tin yellow.
The white part of the collar is delicately painted: the black line of the pattern was painted last, over white paint where individual small, thick brushstrokes create texture and pattern (see micro 14).
Two shapes are visible in the x-ray (see X-ray), in the lower part of the shoulder. These can be seen as raised patterns, but have been completely painted over with the black of the jacket (See Paint sampling) (see micro 16). A paint sample from this area shows a layer that might be the grey priming beneath the black of the coat. Beneath the grey layer there is a layer with a mixture of lead white and traces of chalk. It seems that either these two shapes were present on the paper support before the grey priming was applied, or that the grey layer beneath the black was the top layer of a decoration with raised white beneath which was subsequently painted over. Prussian blue was found in the black coat paint which shows that there was some retouching.
The highlights on the band across the shoulder are characteristic of lead-tin yellow (see micro 15) (see Paint sampling).
The white patterning seems to have been quite freely/quickly painted (see micro 17).
The background paint is quite broken up and much of the paper is visible through it. The blue is azurite, with a few traces of an orange which might be cuprite (a natural impurity, often found associated with azurite). The pigment particles are even and relatively finely ground. These mostly appear as small greenish blue particles but there are larger deeper blue particles dispersed among them (see micro 13). It is probable that the variety of particle sizes are the product of grinding rather than a separation process such as levigation or washing (see Paint sampling).
It is not certain whether the background was originally intended to be blue or whether the blue was a base for a green glaze, which might have been lost subsequently. There are tiny particles of yellow scattered in the background paint but not enough to have affected the colour (See Paint sampling).
The inscription appears to be yellow ochre (see micro 12). It seems to have been painted in a darker colour first, but this appearance could be due to discolouration. If it was painted twice, both applications were applied at the same time. The brownish shadow may be discoloured medium as it remains where the lettering has come away. In paint sample cross-section (sample 8, see Paint sampling) a well-defined translucent line runs under the yellow paint and over the blue background. This could indicate that the inscription was not painted at the same time as the rest of the painting.
Order of construction
- Grey priming / Underdrawing (It was not possible to determine whether the underdrawing lies above or below the priming layer).
- First layers laid in leaving reserves for details, such as for the collar and the bead shapes for the pearls on the hat
- Details in flesh, hair and beard probably painted next
- The beard was painted before the white collar
- The fine details such as the collar, the pattern on the black sleeve and the hat decoration were applied later. The textured piled up impasto for highlights and detail on the hat decoration were probably applied last
- Inscription might be later
Lead white, carbon black, lead-tin yellow, earth pigments, brown and probably yellow ochre, red ochre, red lead probably, azurite
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
In ultra violet light restoration can be seen scattered over the face, the costume and the background (see UV 01).