Maurice Ashley-Cooper; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury

1 portrait

Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue

Maurice Ashley-Cooper; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury

by John Closterman
circa 1700-1701
95 3/4 in. x 67 1/4 in. (2432 mm x 1708 mm)
NPG 5308

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed in yellow, bottom right: Anthony Earl of./Shaftesbury./Maurice.Ashley./His Brother.//1702; the temple bears a Greek inscription To the Pythian God.

This portraitback to top

The Earl on the right leans his arm on the shoulder of his brother, Maurice Ashley Cooper (1675-1726), distinguished by the scar on his chin.
Late in 1699 Closterman wrote to Lord Shaftesbury from Rome:

'I am extremely glad to here of your thoughts for a family pictor … Your Ldp. knowes very well that I loved all ways to do things for you rather than any body whatsome ever … nobody shall prevent me tell your pictors are done, and to goe in to the contry is better still then we shall have howly our thought together.' [1]
The letter shows an understanding between artist and patron and reveals a thoughtful approach to portraiture - which Shaftesbury had otherwise characterized as ‘not so much a liberal art … but merely practical and vulgar’. [2] NPG 5308 shows the man of taste attempting to raise portraiture to the level of history painting; it is an intellectual picture, almost certainly devised by Shaftesbury [3] whose designs, he once wrote, ‘run all on moral emblems and what relates to Ancient Roman and Greek History, Philosophy, and Virtue’. [4]
The composition derives, in reverse, from the celebrated antique statue of brothers, the Castor and Pollux now in the Prado (and then in Rome in the Odescalchi collection). [5] Both sitters were ardent neo-platonists and here they appear in classical Greek costume (as it was then understood). In the distance appears a temple of Apollo (identified by the Greek inscription), god of the civilized arts; perhaps, as Rogers supposed, it is intended for the Oracle at Delphi, where Socrates, the fount of neo-platonism, had been pronounced the wisest of men. Maurice points to the noble landscape, the reflection of the mind of God; for Shaftesbury the ‘most sacred’ order of natural scenery contained

'pines, firs, and trunks of other aged trees … where solitude and deep retreat, and the absence of gainful, luctratible, and busy mortals, make the sublime, pathetic and enchanting, raises the sweet melancholy, the reverie, the meditation.' [6]
Rogers dated the picture c.1700-01 and suggested that the painter’s brother J. B. Closterman may have helped with its completion; both painters were staying at Wimborne St Giles in July 1700 and Rogers believes that NPG 5308 may precede the more thinly painted whole-length of Shaftesbury. [7]

Footnotesback to top

1) As quoted by E. Wind, Hume and the Heroic Portrait, 1986, p 68; see also M. Rogers, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: a catalogue of their works’, Wal. Soc., XLIX, 1983, p 259. When he returned from Rome Closterman painted, it seems, at least three portraits for Lord Shaftesbury: besides NPG 5308, the whole-length of him as a philosopher, and another of his brother Maurice. See also M. Rogers, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: a catalogue of their works’, Wal. Soc., XLIX, 1983, nos. 4, 135.
2) D. H. Solkin, Painting for Money, 1994, p 4, quoting Shaftesbury, Second Characters of the Language of Forms (ed. B. Rand, 1914, p 135).
3) As was, most famously, The Judgment of Hercules by Paolo Matteis, painted in Naples for Shaftesbury - who published A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules, 1713.
4) M. Whinney & O. Millar, English Art 1625-1714, 1957, p 190, quoting a letter to Sir John Cropley, 16 February 1712.
5) But unlike Castor and Pollux, the brothers’ relationship was not always smooth, see HoC 1690-1714, II, pp 72-73, and R. Voitle, The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, 1984, pp 232, 268, 291, 404.
6) D. H. Solkin, Painting for Money, 1994, p 6, quoting Shaftesbury, A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules, 1713, p 163.
7) See M. Rogers, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: a catalogue of their works’, Wal. Soc., XLIX, 1983, no.87. In 1981 he had tentatively accepted the inscribed date of 1702.

Referenceback to top

Rogers 1983
M. Rogers, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: a catalogue of their works’, Wal. Soc., XLIX, 1983, no.86.

Solkin 1993
D. H. Solkin, Painting for Money, 1994, pp 3-26.

Provenanceback to top

By descent from the 3rd to the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury at Wimborne St Giles; Shaftesbury sale, Christie’s, 27 June 1980, lot 146, bought Leggatt for the NPG.

Exhibitionsback to top

Closterman, NPG, 1981, no.17; Beningbrough 1992–.


This extended catalogue entry is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Later Stuart Portraits 1685–1714, National Portrait Gallery, 2009, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for Maurice Ashley-Cooper

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