23rd March 1729. Paintings fit for a King.

George Gower, a precursor of many court painters, was once thought to have painted the c 1558 ‘Armada Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth 1st, but now considered to have been done by a different hand.

It shows Elizabeth with her right hand on a globe, with a background showing a crown and the Spanish Armada.(1)

Armada portrait

‘Armada Portrait’.

Today in 1729 the painter William Hogarth married Jane, the daughter of Sir James Thornhill. Painting had now become an acceptable profession as James was the first British artist to be knighted.

In June 1718, Thornhill was appointed by George I as his chief painter and in March 1720 was created ‘Serjeant-Painter’, a title which was to fall into disuse later in the century. Painting ran in the Thornhill blood as James’ son John also became a Serjeant-Painter, as did Hogarth.

The honorary title gave the holder the prerogative to painting and gilding the monarch’s residences, coaches and barges and holders were known to gross £1000 annually by the 18th century. The better of the Serjeant-Painters became King’s Painters to be involved in portraiture.

It was back in the 16th century, when artists were becoming as important to the Tudor Court as modern royal photographers. John Browne was appointed by Henry VIII as King’s Painter in 1511 and the first Serjeant-Painter in 1527.

Easel painters were regarded as inferior to limners, (painters of miniatures) and with their assistants and apprentices, were used by the monarchs and courtiers to supply portraits and miniatures, along with illuminated manuscripts and heraldic emblems.

Nicholas Hilliard, self-portrait

The miniature painter Nicholas Hilliard, in a self-portrait. He had a role similar to King’s Painter, but without the title.

In an age of masques and tournaments, they were also responsible for their elaborate, decorative painted backgrounds..

George Gower, Sergeant Painter to Elizabeth I was unusual in having a self-portrait showing his Coat-of-Arms and the tools of his trade.

However what is unusual about the painting is that, in the right-hand top corner, is an allegorical device, which faintly shows a balance of an artist’s dividers outweighing the family coat-of-arms: ‘A startling claim in England where a painter was still viewed as little more than an artisan’.(2)

Sir George Gower, self portrait.

Sir George Gower, self portrait.

With the virtual extinction of religious painting at the time of the Reformation and little relating to Classical Mythology, by the end of the Tudors the portrait was the most important form of painting of all Tudor art.

In the 17th century there developed the title of ‘Principal Painter in Ordinary’, concerned with portraiture, more exalted than Serjeant Painter and similar to King’s Painter. Names such as Peter Lely, Godfrey Kneller, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence held the title, with Queen Victoria’s James Sant, being the last in the line.

(1) Gower was appointed in 1581. One of the three paintings of the Armada painting is now in Woburn Abbey.

(2) A typical allegorical work was the ‘Rainbow Portrait’ of Elizabeth I as Queen of Love and Beauty by Isaac Oliver c1600, which epitomised the elaborate, symbolic iconography associated with later Tudor Court Portraits.

Ref: Hearn, Karen ed Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England; 1530-1630 p.107.

Ref: Hearn P43 Strong 1969, Cooper Bolland 2014, P151-4.

Ref: commons.wikimedia/george_gower. Pic Ref.

Ref: wikipedia.org/principal_painters_in_ordinary.

Ref: wikipedia.org/ articles on Gower and Hilliard. Also Pic refs.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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