Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hunting for Jacobeans...

at the V&A Museum, Marcus Gheeraerts,
portrait of Margaret Laton, 1620
During the hottest weekend of the year so far I searched through London looking for Jacobean portraits (my research is getting more and more focussed on this period) Despite the weather (grateful for air-conditioned museums!!) I have spent a good few days sketching and studying some of the greatest Jacobean portraits London can offer. The greats of Gheeraerts, Peake, Larkin and many 'unknown artists' were my eye candy amongst the crowds of  tourists. I sketched, to the curiosity of many tourists ('ooh you are an artist!' or 'can I take your picture?') in front of these ruffed ladies of court.

A lot of these ladies have been identified as wives and daughters of courtiers, dukes and counts. Many of them had their own circle of power and influence. Many other portraits, however, show unknown people. Faces of, no doubt, rich and fairly powerful people, but not so powerful as to have been remembered by us. It all gives you sense of a certain 'in-crowd'. They must have known each-other; after all there were only a few families reigning high while James I was king. Although many are painted conforming to beauty ideals of the day (pale white faces and chests) and painting styles in favour (the slightly googly eyes and protruding eye lids) you can still discern that these were individual women. No models, no famous beauties (although some were) but women. Women who played their part, did their duties, fought for their families or their rights and presented themselves to the world as mothers, wives or daughters, rich, powerful, sensitive or defiant.  What strikes me, is that they were normal women, who just like me and millions of others nowadays balance between motherhood, marriage life, taste and beauty and their own aspirations and talents. From some of these we know a lot, from others we know very little. But despite the times being different and the fashion almost opposite to today's, the human inside is so very like us.

On my way in the train

Sketch after John Critz' portrait of
Queen Anne of Denmark, 1605-10
My interest in the Jacobean period is deepening. During my research for my Phd, may years ago, although I was looking into later Baroque architecture I analysed an architectural treatise by Sir Henry Wotton, written in the Jacobean period. Wotton was James I's ambassador in Venice and my interest in this period was kindled. Now, while researching lace and portraiture I am again ending up looking at these early decades of the seventeenth century. This is the period after the death of Elizabeth who had been idealised into a near goddess. This was the period before the civil war. In painting we see the influence of Dutch artists with their use of strong chiaroscuro but also the particular attention paid to rich clothing, lace and jewellery which reminds us of Elizabethan portraits. After the 1630s painting would turn more painterley and suggestive in the works of Van Dyck and Lely, and the rich details would disappear in favour of the swerve of the brush stroke and the character portraits of the sitter. The period between 1603 and 1625 when fashion-lover Anne of Denmark was queen and artists like Gheeraerts, Critz, Peake and larkin painted the aristocracy and royalty, when Shakespeare was at his top and Inigo Jones was designing hundreds of maque costumes is a fascinating period caught in between styles and times. At the beginning of the period the Tudor styled Montacute House was finished (1601) while a mere 15 years later Inigo Jones designed the utterly classical and Italian styled Queens House in Greenwich (1616-19). Sir Henry Wotton wrote about architecture that "Every Mans proper Mansion House and Home, being the Theatre of his Hospitality, the Seate of Selfe-fruition, the Comfortablest part of his own Life, the Noblest of his Sonnes Inheritance, a kinde of private Princedome; Nay, to the Possessors therof, an Epitomie of the whole World: may well deserve by these Attributes, according to the degree of the Master, to be decently and delightfully adorned". This 'epitome of the world' was shifting.

a lace handkerchief à la Larkin!

some glorious Italian needle lace (punto in aria) from 1600-20

sketching after John Critz's portrait of Anne of
Denmark, 1605-10 at the National Portrait

sketching after Larkin's portrait of Frances, countess of Somerset
1615, at National Portrait Gallery.

sketching after Rembrandt's portrait of Margaretha de Geer,

too hot to walk or for the tube: taxi it is! On my way to the Tate
Britain while Andy Murray plays the Wimbledon final...

Tate Britain in the hot sun

Tate Britain has a great exhibition: BP Walk through British
Art with many treasures in the first room.


  1. I enjoy reading your posts Sophie, I live in France and very often find beautiful old lace being sold in the little markets by shrewd well informed older ladies usually!

  2. Thank you Nigel so glad you enjoy my blog. I see on your blog you are having great success with your paints as well. Looking great. Am a little jealous of you finding shrewd older ladies selling lace...;)


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