Jane, Lady Thornagh (c.1600 – 1661)

William Larkin
after 1580 – 1619

Jane, Lady Thornagh (c.1600 – 1661)

Painted Inscribed and dated lower left: ‘Ætatis· SVÆ· 17/ANO: 1617’

Oil on Panel: 45 1/2 x 33 9/16 inches, 113.8 x 83.9 cm

Provenance

  • By descent through the Thornaghs of Fenton and Osberton, Nottinghamshire to
  • John Thornagh (d.1787), of Osberton and Shireoaks, Nottinghamshire;
  • thence to his second daughter and sole heir,
  • Mary Arabella Thornagh (1749 – 1790), who married in 1774
  • Francis Moore (1749 – 1814), of Aldwarke, who inherited the estates of his uncle, Thomas Foljambe, and assumed the name Foljambe by Act of Parliament;
  • Thence by descent with the Foljambes of Osberton to
  • G.M.T. Foljambe, by whom sold, Christies, London, 8 July 2008, lot 18; Private collection, England.
  • with The Weiss Gallery, 2008, sold to
  • Private collection, England, until 2016.

Literature

  • The Weiss Gallery, Tudor and Stuart Portraits: From the Collections of the English Nobility and their Great Country Houses, 2012, cat. no. 10

Exhibitions

  • Madrid, The March Foundation, The Island of Treasure: British Art from Holbein to Hockney, 5th October 2011 to 20th January 2012.

This exceptionally well-preserved portrait is one of the finest works on panel by William Larkin, the Jacobean painter who is most famous for his celebrated set of nine magnificent full-length portraits that descended with the Earls of Suffolk, and which now hang at Kenwood House.[1] His exaggerated, iconographic style has been likened to miniature painting on a grand scale, reflecting a particularly English aesthetic.

The intricately embroidered and brilliantly coloured costume is kaleidoscopic in effect. The motifs include sea monsters, maritime birds and flora, emerging from stylised silvery ripples of water on her skirt. Her bodice is decorated with crimson-crested woodpeckers, insects, grapes, and flowers punctuated by silver spangles and swirling patterns of golden thread. They are depicted with painstaking attention and each brushstroke imitates individual stitches. The detail reflects the exquisite craftsmanship characteristic of Larkin, all the more noticeable for its execution on panel rather than canvas. Her loosely flowing fair hair is caught on the fashionably starched pale yellow collar, beneath which the neck-line of her bodice scoops low to reveal a pearlescent chest of milky skin and a maze of aristocratic ‘blue-blooded’ veins.

Larkin has depicted Jane with her right hand over her stomach, which could be an indication that she is pregnant with her first child Francis, who was born in 1617, the year of this portrait.

The painting is in a remarkable state of preservation, with virtually all of its original glazes and impasto intact, allowing us to enjoy its dazzling surface and Larkin’s virtuoso technique, for he was an artist whose paintings brought the Elizabethan and Jacobean tradition of court portraiture to a brilliant climax during the second decade of James I. Before Larkin and the main body of his work were first identified, portraits such as this were ascribed to ‘The Curtain Master’, on account of their presentation of the sitter within draped curtains.[2] These formalised swags of silk were a device he commonly employed to frame his subjects. The artist, or his studio, often replicated almost identical folds. Those used for Lady Thornagh are closely comparable to sections of the curtains found in the full-length of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset and Elizabeth Drury, Lady Burghley from the Suffolk collection. There are few records of Larkin’s life and brief career, which was cut short by his untimely death in 1619, the same year that Nicholas Hilliard and also the Queen, Anne of Denmark, died. He never occupied an official position at court, but we do know he was London-born.

The provenance of our painting indicates that the sitter is very likely to be Jane, Lady Thornagh. She was the eldest daughter of Sir John Jackson (b.1568) of Edderthorpe and Hickleton, a member of the council at York and an attorney to King James I, and his wife Elizabeth Savile, whose father had been a Baron of the Exchequer during the reign of Elizabeth I. Jane was married in around 1615 to Francis Thornagh (1593 – 1643), of Fenton. The Thornaghs[3] were an influential Nottinghamshire family whose roots can be traced back to the 13th century when a Petrus de Thornhawe sat in the parliament of 1295 for Lincoln city. Her husband Francis was knighted the year of his marriage, and was to become High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire (1637 – 1638), a position his father had held, and that his son after him would also later hold. At the outbreak of the Civil War, siding with the Parliamentarians, he raised a regiment of horse to fight against the King through he died shortly after in April 1643. Jane retained the family estates at Fenton in dower, and continued to live there until her death in 1661.[4]

 

[1] Of these, the costume of Lady Isabella Rich, with her low-cut bodice, pale yellow lace collar and red and blue mantle, is echoed here in this portrait of Jane Thornagh.

[2] A pair of oval portraits of his patrons ‘Sir Edward Herbert (1583 – 1648), later 1st Baron Cherbury’ and ‘Sir Thomas Lucy (1584 – 1640’ at Charlecote Park (National Trust), referred to by Lord Herbert in his autobiography were first published as by Larkin by James Lees-Milne, ‘Two Portraits at Charlecote Park by William Larkin’, Burlington Magazine, XCIV, 1952, pp.352-356. Sir Roy Strong subsequently was the first to assemble his oeuvre around these two documented works.

[3] Most commonly spelt Thornagh, the name literally meant ‘thorn hedge’, a reversal of ‘hawthorn’, and was also sometimes written Thorney, and Thornaugh, probably deriving from the village of Thorney in Nottinghamshire, within a few miles of the city of Lincoln.

[4] Their son and heir, Colonel Francis Thornagh (1617 – 1648) distinguished himself during the Civil War as one of the county’s most brilliant soldiers, becoming the Colonel of his father’s regiment. He would lose his life in action, fighting for the Parliamentarian cause against the Duke of Hamilton’s army at the battle of Preston in Lancashire, impaled by a Scotsman’s lance.

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