Monday, 22 July 2013


It is fascinating to see how art historians shy away from talking about 'style' (as that has been considered as too much 'labelling' recently) when discussing Jacobean art and nearly always write about the sitter, the costume and the artist only. Catalogues and books describe into much detail how the political landscape of the time was formed, who married who and what they wore. The Jacobean period (1603-1625) is a bit of an 'in-between' period as its 'late Renaissance' and 'early Baroque' (or we can call it all 'early modern' to avoid this boxing in). In most older art history books no artists from this era get a mention (the Baroque starts with Van Dyck and the Renaissance ends with the end of Elizabeth's reign). The few historians that do explore Jacobean and early Stuart art can do very little than refer to Holbein and Elizabethan portraits and label everything that looks a bit like it 'old fashioned' and everything that starts to smell of the sway of Van Dyck as 'early'. So are Peake and Larkin merely late interpreters of Tudor art ("stiff" and with much dress patterning) and are they overshadowed by the grand sway of Van Dyck who seems to have taken over during Charles I's reign?

I would love to know more, more than I read in catalogues, not solely about the sitter or who his mum and dad were and how he was related to the king, not only about the artist or where he grew up, not just about the meaning of the carnation in the skirt embroidery or the latest fashion of slashed sleeves....but also about how the artist painted. The composition, the choice of colour, the 'style' and manner of painting, the love of nature, patterns, textures and how that was translated in paint. Nobody talks about *the painting*, only about the people depicted in it. I don't know if I will find out but it seems there is some room for research here. I imagine, for now, that places to start would be continental prints and pattern books, Jacobean architecture but also the thirst for realism in painting. Another path might be the sense of 'acting' in a portrait, of 'portraying' yourself in paint, for the world to see. Theatricality must have gained in importance in the art of portrait painting in the time when Shakespeare was at his height and masques were celebrated at court.

William Larkin, portrait of Mary Radclyffe, 1610-13

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