This archetypal Elizabethan portrait exemplifies the haughty swagger that Gower so effortlessly imbued in his sitters, conveying a firm sense of character through his markedly linear handling. It represents an important addition to the artist’s oeuvre, being previously unknown and unrecorded. It was painted in 1581, a pivotal year for Gower, when he was appointed ‘Sergeant-Painter to the Queen’, with an annuity of £10. The duties of this office had traditionally been decorative and heraldic, so apart from being the first English-born artist to achieve courtly success, Gower appears to have been the first portraitist to hold this post. Thus, he became the principal architect of the queen’s iconography, remaining the pre-eminent painter at Elizabeth I’s court for most of her reign. It was an extraordinary achievement for an Englishman, at a time when Gower’s contemporaries in London were born and trained overseas, hitherto the artistic status quo.
Peter Courthope (1577 – 1657) who purchased the estate in 1652;
Private collection, Austria, until 2018.
The Weiss Gallery, A Connoisseur's Eye, 2020, cat. 4.
Although it can be argued that his peers achieved greater levels of realism and more painterly effects, none could match Gower’s uniquely English style and finish. Among his best-known works are a pair of bust-length portraits at Tate Britain, of Sir Thomas Kytson and his wife, Lady Kytson, dating from 1573. Technical analysis of those two works by the conservator Rica Jones revealed Gower’s use of intermediate varnishes during the course of painting to ensure maximum saturation of the paint, providing a unique clarity of colour. This is apparently also evident in the artist’s Self Portrait of 1579, the first such in large-scale by an English artist. It is fair to assume, looking at George Goring here with his dazzling and typically icy palette, that Gower has accordingly saturated the layers of paint in this exquisitely accomplished and indeed typical work.
In our portrait, the courtly aspirations of the twenty-six-year old George Goring are vibrantly captured by Gower through the sitter’s resplendent costume. He wears a fine reticella lace cartwheel ruff, and his black velvet cloak is abundantly embroidered with grape vines and acorns in costly silver and gold thread. Golden acorns further adorn his doublet and the buttons themselves are acorn-shaped, all symbolising Goring’s status as the scion of a dynasty from which a ‘great oak’ would grow. His right sleeve is unbuttoned to reveal the embroidered initials of his wife, Anne Denny, on his under-shirt – a garment worn literally and metaphorically close to the heart, providing a dash of Elizabethan romance and whimsy.
Anne Denny (b. c. 1549/50 – after 1602), was the daughter of one of Henry VIII’s most trusted courtiers and advisors, Anthony Denny (1501 – 1549), of Waltham Abbey, Essex. Denny was Keeper of Hatfield House (where the young Princess Elizabeth spent much of her childhood), and then of Westminster palace and latterly of Henry VIII’s royal household. He was the most prominent member of the Privy chamber in Henry’s last years, having charge of the ‘dry stamp’ of the royal signature, and acting as an Executor of the king’s will. He was even given the use of the Windsor crest in the 1st and 4th quadrants of his own coat-of-arms. Though Anne’s father died around the time of her birth, this royal connection and indeed the wealth that she brought to Goring, were essential in elevating the status of our sitter to the point we see here in 1581, the probable year of his marriage. Notably, Anne was some five years older than her younger husband.
George Goring Jnr. MP for Lewes in 1593 and 1601, was the eldest son of George Goring Snr. (c.1522 – 1594), also an MP for Lewes (elected to the English parliament in 1563). Goring Snr. purchased an impressive estate in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, a year after the present portrait was painted, and there at great expense he built Danny House, the construction of which was not finished until a year after his death. This extraordinary mansion, which would later house an exceptional art collection, was constructed in the shape of the letter ‘E’ in honour of the Queen, who had been on the throne for over thirty years by that time. Goring Jnr. ultimately became responsible for both the house and his father’s associated debts, which amounted to the substantial sum of £20,000, but through favourable connections with Sir Robert Cecil (1563 – 1612), 1st Earl of Salisbury, (to whom he and his wife regularly sent presents in gratitude), George managed to avoid the forcible sale of Danny Park. In 1596, Sir Walter Raleigh allowed Goring to try to repair his fortunes by prospecting for iron on some of his lands in Munster.
He died on 7 February 1602, leaving lands in Dorset and Sussex to his brothers-in-law, with the provision of portions for his four daughters. Anne was left as his sole executrix with the house at Danny Park, until their eldest son George reached his majority. Colonel George Goring, 1st Earl of Norwich (1585 – 1663), like his father and grandfather, went on to become an MP for Lewes, and was knighted in 1608. A favourite of Charles I of England, he took a prominent royalist role in the Civil War of 1648.
 Karen Hearn notes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that it has not proved possible to identify definitively any portraits of the queen by Gower, though he has been proposed as the author of the ‘Armada’ portraits of about 1588–9 (Woburn Abbey, Bedford- shire; and National Portrait Gallery on loan to Mont- acute House).
 After four generations of Gorings, Danny was sold to Peter Courthope in 1652.