Marcus Geeraerts the Younger (Circle)

Late 16th-Century Portrait Of An English Lady

Marcus Geeraerts the Younger (Circle)

Late 16th-Century Portrait Of An English Lady

This late-16th-century oil painting by an artist working in the circle of Marcus Geeraerts the Younger (1561/62-1636) depicts a lady wearing a black dress.

With eyebrows raised and a look of mild disdain, this formidable lady peers through four centuries of history. Her lace-edged ruff, starched to perfection, atop a fashionable dress dyed in lavish black. Over a hundred pearls glisten.

In 1585, Elizabeth I reigned supreme. During the following three years, the Spanish Armada was decisively defeated by a naval force led by Sir Francis Drake. While the treasonous head of Mary, Queen of Scots, was held aloft by her executioner.

Here, we see a lady pledging her allegiance through a carefully-considered outfit, much in the style of the Tudor monarch. And it’s tantalising to consider that she might’ve aided her from within the confines of the Royal household.

Elizabeth, cunning as she was, surrounded herself with a tight-knit group of confidantes known as the ‘old flock of Hatfield’. She dispensed with the Catholics, who aided Queen Mary, and replaced them with cousins and close friends. Images of this merry band are tricky to locate but our portrait bears some resemblance to Elizabeth Hardwick (1520-1608), Countess of Shrewsbury.

Intriguingly, upon examining the canvas under UV, it appears that alterations were made to the hair, which was previously more voluminous - as per this portrait of ‘Bess’ from around 1580. By 1590, we see her adopting a slimmer style, as shown here.

But evidently, numerous distinguished ladies sported the same look in homage to their great Queen. So it’s remarkably difficult to determine her true identity.

With regards to the artist, visually it sits alongside the Flemish School with several Flemish painters working in England during the late 16th century. It was previously attributed to the circle of Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569–1622) but he was an apprentice in Antwerp at the time. Hence, we’ve attributed the portrait to the circle of Marcus Geeraerts the Younger who produced various depictions of English nobles. Geeraerts the Younger is also known to have worked on canvas.

A magnificent survivor of the late Tudor period.

For further comparisons on the outfit worn, please refer to Nicholas Hilliard’s portrait of an unknown woman from 1593, which is in the V&A.

Held in a splendid 18th-century carved giltwood frame with swept corners.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 21” x 24½” / 53cm x 63cm
Year of creation: c. 1585
Condition: Overall in good presentable order given its age. Areas of overpaint as referred to above. Craquelure but the paint is stable. Frame with some light wear.

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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