Lady Elizabeth Pope, wife of Sir William Pope (1596 – 1624), with her eldest son Thomas, later 2nd Earl of Downe (1622 – 1660) and eldest daughter Anne (b1617)

English School
circa 1625 – circa 1626

Lady Elizabeth Pope, wife of Sir William Pope (1596 – 1624), with her eldest son Thomas, later 2nd Earl of Downe (1622 – 1660) and eldest daughter Anne (b1617)

Oil on canvas: 79 1/2 x 57 7/8 inches, 202 x 147 cm

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Provenance

  • By descent through the Earls of Downe at Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire to
  • Sir Francis North (1637 – 1685), 1st Baron Guildford, and thence through the Earls of Guildford and the Lords North to William, 11th Baron North (1836 – 1932); by whom sold
  • Sotheby’s, London, 11 July 1930, lot 63 (unsold);
  • with Leggatts, London, 1931, from whom acquired by
  • Harold Pearson, 2nd Viscount Cowdray (1888 – 1933), thence by descent to
  • Michael Pearson, 4thViscount Cowdray (b.1944), Cowdray Park, Sussex.

This endearing family portrait, dating from the first years of the reign of Charles I, has a very prestigious provenance. Before entering the collection at Cowdray Park, it hung for some three hundred years at Wroxton Abbey, the home of firstly the Pope and then the North family. Wroxton’s collection of early English portraits was one of the greatest ever assembled, with notable masterpieces by Marcus Gheeraerts, David des Granges and at least four large-scale portraits by Robert Peake, as well as fine examples by William Larkin and Cornelius Johnson. Several of these are now in museums including Tate, the National Maritime Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale Center for British Art. The collection was dispersed in a great house sale in 1932, by which time this portrait had already left the collection.

The artist for this painting remains unknown. Painted around 1625 – 1626 during the new reign of King Charles I, its theatrical Jacobean design – with the sitters set between curtains, as if on a stage – had become somewhat outmoded. However, this can be simply explained, for clearly the artist chose, or was instructed, to emulate in symmetry and design a particular painting from approximately thirty years before that was already hanging in the house. This is the portrait from 1596 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561 – 1635/6) of Anne, Lady Pope (1561 – 1625) and her children (now on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, from a private collection). Anne Pope was the mother of Elizabeth’s deceased husband, Sir William Pope (1596 – 1624), with whom in Gheeraert’s portrait Anne is clearly pregnant. His father, Sir William Pope, (1573 – 1631), the 1st Earl of Downe, would outlive his son, and in all likelihood later commissioned this portrait of his son’s widow and children as a pendant to the earlier portrait.[2] Within a few years, however, the revolutionary and ultimately all-pervading artistic influence of Anthony van Dyck at the English court would dramatically sweep away these stiffly formal tableaux, changing the face of English portraiture forever.

Elizabeth Watson was the daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Watson of Halsted, Kent, a major investor in the settlement of Virginia. She married William Pope (1596 – 1624), the eldest son and heir of William Pope, 1st Earl of Downe (1573 – 1631), in 1615. Her husband died young, aged only twenty-seven, in 1624, and in this portrait, which can be dated on costume to the mid 1620s, Elizabeth is presumably shown with their eldest son, Thomas (baptised in Oxford in 1622), who succeeded his grandfather as Baron Bealturbit and 2nd Earl of Downe, and their elder daughter, Anne (baptised in 1617). Following her husband’s death, she married secondly Sir Thomas Penyston (1591 – 1644) of Leigh in Sussex.

Elizabeth, considered quite a beauty, had been painted around ten years earlier by Robert Peake (c.1551 – 1619) at the time of her first marriage, a portrait which likewise was at Wroxton and now hangs at Tate Britain, where she is shown in an Arcadian landscape with loosely flowing tresses and a subtly exposed bosom, adorned with costly diamonds, pearls and an azure, pearl-encrusted robe and jauntily plumed hat; quite the ‘Jacobethan’ seductress.

In our later, group portrait, red velvet curtains are drawn back to reveal the three figures in opulent costume. Lady Pope is magnificently dressed in a close fitting silk jacket and matching petticoat with floral embroidery, articulated with a geometric pattern of gold thread. The blues in the embroidery are echoed in her sweeping silk mantle fastened to her left shoulder by a sapphire and pearl brooch. The artist skillfully renders her scalloped collar of bobbin lace and the matching scalloped, falling lace cuffs, reflecting a move away at this time from stiffly starched lace, as worn by her children. Lady Pope’s hairstyle is also à la mode. By the mid 1620s, hair, which previously was combed away from the forehead in the manner of Anne of Denmark, began to be worn with fringes of little curls. Here, Elizabeth sports a fringe, but retains the flowing tresses of her youth.

Thomas and Anne wear matching green jackets and petticoats with gold embroidery. Thomas is still in skirts, and appears to be around three or four years old whilst his sister seems to be eight or nine years old. Their ages, along with the fashions worn, support a dating for the painting to circa 1625 – 1626. The portrait is a striking example of what Roy Strong described as the Jacobean ‘feeling for portraiture as a document’, celebrating the Pope family’s lineage and descent, for ‘Elizabethan and Jacobean family groups are the materialization in paint of family trees’. The manner in which Lady Pope is shown with her right hand on her eldest son’s head signals his future succession to the family’s estates and titles. Indeed, he succeeded his grandfather as 2nd Earl, but like his father before him, he did not live to a great age, dying at 38, and was therefore unusually succeeded by his uncle, his father’s younger brother, Thomas Pope (1598 – 1667), who became 3rd Earl.

Of particular note is the very rare carpet on which they stand. As with the other carpets depicted in several of the portraits which are included in this catalogue, it originated from the village of Oushak in Western Anatolia. This exact pattern has only survived in one complete example, known as ‘the Wind Carpet’ which was sold at Christie’s, 20th October 1994, lot 517.

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