The straightforward conception of this exceptionally well-preserved portrait is characteristic of the leading Anglo-Dutch court portraitist, Cornelius Johnson. It depicts a notable French diplomat who, having trained as an abbot, was primarily active within the court of Louis XIII (1601 – 1643) and, briefly, his brother-in-law Charles I (1600 – 1649). Presented half-length, wearing a multi-tiered white lace ruff and a black silk tunic, which has the emblem of the Order of Saint-Michel embroidered onto his cloak and the Order of the Saint-Esprit hanging from its accompanying blue ribbon, Charles de L’Aubespine is here depicted as an honourable and knowingly powerful representative of France’s Ancien Régime.
(Possibly) Jane Westenra (c.1710 – 1788), Dowager Viscountess Galway;
her sale Christie’s, London, 6 February 1787; bt. by
Robert Monckton-Arundell (1758 – 1810), 4th Viscount Galway, Serlby Hall, Bawtry, Nottinghamshire; thence by descent to
Hon. Lucia Emily Margaret Monckton-Arundell (1890 – 1983), Viscountess Galway, Serlby Hall; her sale
Sotheby’s, London, 13 March 1985, lot 30;
Sotheby's, London, 8 March 1989, lot 23; bt. by
Private Collection, Toronto.
London, Tate Gallery, The Age of Charles I: Painting in England, 1620 – 1649, 1972, no. 33.
Oliver Millar, The Age of Charles I: Painting in England, 1620 – 1649, London 1972, p. 32.
From an illustrious family of secretaries of state, ambassadors and advisers, Charles de L'Aubespine was the son of Guillaume de L'Aubespine (1547 – 1629), marquis of Châteauneuf, and Marie de La Châtre. He initially trained for the priesthood, becoming the abbot of Preaux, before entering the realm of state politics, which were still heavily guided by the church. His first major responsibility came with his appointment as the keeper of the seal of the Holy Order of the Saint-Esprit, which brought him further into contact with the inner circles of the French court and governance. He was deemed a skilled diplomat and was, thus, charged with several ambassadorial roles for France, first being sent to the Low Countries in 1606, and subsequently to Germany and Venice.
He arrived in London as ambassador for Louis XIII in July 1629 - the present portrait is likely to have been commissioned to commemorate this appointment as the painting is dated to that year. The artist, being at the apogee of his desirability for courtly patrons, will have been a recommended choice by leading members of the nobility who the sitter would have met at the English court. Beyond ambassadorial duties, he seems to have fraternised during his stint in London, for Charles I’s Master of Ceremonies Sir John Finet recorded that L’Aubespine attended the court at Windsor, before being ‘conducted by my lord of Carlisle and my lord Holland to More Park for a sight of the rare gardens and waterworks there.’ Though his time in London was short, he was, notably, active in opposing Rubens’s efforts towards achieving peace with Spain.
On his return to France in 1630 he was made Garde des Sceaux (‘Keeper of the Seals of France’) by the king’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1585 – 1642), and as such was responsible for the condemnation of the Comte de Marillac and the Duc de Montmorency, his predecessors as Garde des Sceaux. He had a reputation for arrogance and, following his leaking the king’s secret plans to occupy parts of the duchy of Lorraine to the Duchesse de Chevreuse - who in turn informed the Duke of Lorraine - he fell out of favour and was dismissed of his duties in 1633. He was subsequently imprisoned by Richelieu in the Château d'Angoulême where he remained for ten years. He was released on the death of the king in 1643 and quickly embroiled himself in the Cabale des Importants, a plot by France’s nobility to strip the supporters of the late Richelieu, particularly his successor Cardinal Mazarin (1602 – 1661), of their duties and reclaim the privileges his ministry had stripped from them. This plot was foiled and many of the instigators, L’Aubespine included, were exiled from
Paris for several years. Come 1650, however, he was reinstated as Garde des Sceaux by Queen Anne of Austria, just before her regency of the French crown expired. However, he voluntarily resigned the appointment on 3rd April 1651, presumably once Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) had formally ascended the throne, and retired permanently from the French court, ultimately dying at Château de Leuville on 17th September 1653.
Unusually for a work by Johnson, the panel has been adorned with the sitter’s coat-of-arms, which have been surrounded by the decorative elements of the Orders of Saint-Michel and Saint-Esprit. Seemingly intrinsic to the panel, and decorated with expensive gold leaf, this device marks this portrait as an especially important commission. The circumstances of the painting remaining in the United Kingdom remain unclear but it was almost certainly in the collection of Robert Monckton-Arundell (1758 – 1810), 4th Viscount Galway, Serlby Hall, by 1787, where it remained for nearly two hundred years.
The sitter can be identified thanks, in part, to a cartellino that was affixed to its original frame. Frustratingly, this was removed by its former owner, however an old reproduction of it shows how it was inscribed. The absence of this important original element of the overall object notwithstanding, the present portrait was included in a seminal exhibition dedicated to the art produced in the age of Charles I, held at the Tate in 1972. There are also several other recorded likenesses of L’Aubespine, including a portrait attributed to Daniel Dumonstier [Fig. 1], an engraving [Fig. 2], and a bronze medal, which was likely cast to commemorate his death in 1653. [Fig. 3].
 S. Jeffrey, “The Formal Gardens at Moor Park in the Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Centuries” from Garden History, Vol. 42, no. 2 (Winter 2014), p. 165.
 Miss Pardoe, The Life of Marie de Medicis, Queen of France, London 1852, p. 194.
 For information relating to other paintings kept at Serlby Hall, see: https://tinyurl.com/Serlbyhall
‘The National and Professional Identities of Cornelius Johnson’, (abridged), by Karen Hearn ~
Cornelius Johnson was born in London, the son of Flemish émigrés whose family originated from Cologne. His parents were part of the great influx of Protestants from the Netherlands who fled religious persecution following the Spanish conquest of Flanders and the fall of Antwerp. All Johnson’s known works are portraits. He worked on every scale, from the tiny oval miniature to the full-length and even the large group portrait. Although he constantly and subtly modified the manner in which he presented his sitters, his paintings are generally recognisably his. There is a meticulous precision in the handling of jewellery and of dress that were signifiers of rank and wealth.
Although he may also have received some training in London, Johnson is thought to have learned much of his craft in the northern (largely Protestant) Netherlands, perhaps in the Delft workshop of Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (1566 – 1641) or with Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn (c.1572 – 1657) at The Hague. When he returned to London, presumably in late 1618 (we know that he witnessed a family baptism there in January 1619), the market there was still principally one for portraits.
In 1622, when Johnson married Elizabeth Beck (or Beek), herself from a Dutch migrant family based in Colchester, he was living in the London parish of St. Ann, Blackfriars. Blackfriars was popular with immigrant craftsmen of many different trades, because it was outside the jurisdiction of the guilds of the City of London.
Throughout the 1620s, Johnson was clearly extremely busy, producing portraits for an increasingly important client base. He must have begun to run a workshop, with assistants, although we know nothing about how this operated. In 1631, he painted a full-length portrait of Charles I, and on 5 December 1632 Johnson was appointed Charles I’s ‘servant in ye quality of Picture Drawer’. However, earlier the same year, Anthony van Dyck had arrived in London and had also begun to work for Charles I, who had appointed him ‘principalle Paynter in Ordinary to their Majesties’. As Charles’s official painter, van Dyck was, of course, expected to settle there.
A 1626 document had recorded Johnson’s Blackfriars residence as ‘Goeinge downe to the Waterside’. It was therefore probably close to the house with a garden that was also on the Thames at Blackfriars, that Charles I would provide for van Dyck. In 1635, £20 was spent on making ‘ … a new Cawsey way [10 foot broad] and a new paire of Staires …’ up into van Dyck’s garden there, so that the King could go ashore from the royal barge ‘ …to see his Paintings in the monethes of Iune and Iuly 1635’. So, the two painters must have been near neighbours.
In 1634 the Heralds at the College of Arms in London confirmed that Johnson was entitled to use a coat of arms – indicating that he was a man of some status. They did this by registering a five-generation pedigree, which Johnson must have submitted to them, and which named his great-grandfather as 'Peter Johnson of Cullen' - that is, ‘of Cologne’. Johnson’s Cologne ancestry is significant, because, as mentioned above, later in life, he would choose to word the signature that he inscribed on his paintings ‘Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen’ – which means, in Dutch, ‘from Cologne’. However socially and professionally ambitious Johnson may have been, the overwhelming success of his Blackfriars neighbour must have presented him with a considerable challenge. Indeed, during the 1630s, Johnson can sometimes be seen discreetly adopting and adapting van Dyckian compositions and postures in his own work.
In fact, Johnson seems to have received only a few commissions from Charles I himself – and these were generally for small-scale images. It appears that Johnson may even have developed this format principally for the royal family. Some of these were actually miniature copies after works by van Dyck. They include two near-identical small paintings on copper which replicate the figure of the infant Charles II from van Dyck's enormous 1632 portrait of Charles I and his queen Henrietta Maria and their two eldest children (referred to in an early document as the 'Greate Peece'). The prince is depicted in a dress, as was customary at this period for little boys, who were not put into breeches until the age of six or seven. Presumably Charles commissioned these little paintings to be given as gifts.
Johnson also painted three minutely detailed tiny full-length portraits, on oak panels, of Charles I’s three eldest children. Each child is placed in front of a carefully chosen open-air scene. Thus, behind Charles, Prince of Wales we see a military exercise in progress. Behind little James, Duke of York, who holds a pistol, a hunt is visible; while behind Princess Mary there is a garden with a fountain. These works, too, were documented in Charles’s collection. All three are signed and dated 1639, so Johnson was obviously still working for the King then - indeed, in 1641 he was officially listed among the ‘King's servants in ordinary of the chamber’.
During the 1630s, Johnson clearly also had a number of clients from east Kent. More than a century later, the engraver George Vertue would write that Johnson actually went to live there. Vertue’s source was Johnson’s great-nephew, a little-known British painter called Anthony Roussel (c.1663 – 1743). Vertue wrote that Johnson ‘lived sometime in Kent … [and] painted pictures for several Gent. Familyes thereabouts – Augers Palmers. Hammond. & Bowyers &c. done mostly in the years 1630 & to 40’. Of these, Vertue singled out for especial praise ‘a Curious fine head of Sir Thomas Bowyer and the Lady Auger Bowyer. Called the Starr in the East for her remarkable beauty.’ A portrait of 1633, which is now in the Government Art Collection, seems to be Johnson’s painting of Lady Bowyer.
Johnson was clearly always aware of the commercial need to be flexible. He offered portraits on every scale - including miniatures. He was adept at responding to external influences and changes, including major setbacks like the arrival of van Dyck in London. He was perpetually modifying the manner in which he presented his sitters. He was prepared to collaborate with other artists and to make versions of other artists’ works, including those of his famous neighbour, van Dyck. He used a carefully chosen, controlled range of poses. Perhaps as a response to van Dyck’s metropolitan success, he also developed a regional clientele away from the Court, in Kent.
Van Dyck died in December 1641, which should have re-opened opportunities for the artists in London whom he had elbowed aside. However, the political situation was deteriorating, and the King and Court left London early in 1642. With the outbreak of war, he had the resourcefulness to leave the country into which his migrant family had assimilated, and move to the northern Netherlands. At his death in Utrecht in 1661, he was a pillar of his community and a prosperous man.
 In January 1625, Johnson took on John Evoms.as an apprentice, and in April 1638 another (unnamed) apprentice joined him. According to George Vertue, Johnson’s nephew Theodore Roussel worked with him for nine years; see Hearn 2015, op cit, pp. 17, 18, 45.
 Reproduced in Hearn, 2015, fig. 15, p. 25; it was a near-replica of the portrait type of the king being produced during these years by Charles’s official portraitist, the migrant Dutchman, Daniel Mytens.
 Reproduced in Hearn, 2015, fig. 2, p. 9.
 Anthony had, however, been born two years after Johnson’s death, and there seem to be problems with some of his evidence.