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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

attributed to studio of Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, circa 1595
9 3/4 in. x 8 in. (248 mm x 203 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1994
NPG 6241

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William Heap

10 October 2017, 20:32

I have made an addition to the previous post.

A closer examination of the background is necessary. The large encampment with artillery, earthworks and a gabion in the background of the portrait suggest their presence at a siege. There are three pieces of artillery and a gunner depicted in fortified positions. A sapper’s tool used for digging trenches is perhaps also visible. Mounted horsemen are present in the background on the left as well as pikemen behind the encampment. The evidence leads us to either Gournay or Rouen during his campaign in France; that is to say, 1591. It could be asked why Essex would choose Rouen as it was ultimately a failure. There are two possibilities: either the portrait was painted during the siege or he saw Rouen as something to celebrate. In another well-known engraving by Thomas Cockson, the siege of Rouen does appear next to his moment of glory at Cadiz. As for the artist, Nicholas Hilliard, he had previously visited France 1576-79. On this occasion he painted the 'freebooter' Sir Anthony Mildmay (Cleveland Museum of Art 1926.554) in a similar 'on campaign' pose.
Finally, we have one other item linking this portrait to the campaign in France. Essex is also wearing a white sash (perhaps bearing fleurs-de-lys) on his right arm as well as white crests in his helmet and his horse. White was the colour adopted by Henri IV.

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