An Unknown Noblewoman

William Larkin
c.1585 - 1619

An Unknown Noblewoman

Painted c. 1615 - 1616

Oil on panel: 22 ¾ x 17 ¼ in. (57.8 x 43.8 cm.)



The Lords Willoughby de Broke, Compton Verney, Kineton, Warwickshire until presumably,

12 – 13 June 1924, ‘the property of Lord Willoughby de Broke’, on site, Woodley House, Kineton, Co. Warwick, including 47 pictures (as ref. Fritz Lugt);

possibly Agnes Beryl Spencer-Churchill (1881 – 1948), granddaughter of 6th Duke of Marlborough;

The Hon. Harold Miller Pearson, 2nd Viscount Cowdray (1882 – 1933);

The Hon. Mrs. Daphne Lakin (1918-2015), daughter of 2nd Viscount Cowdray, Hammerwood House, Iping, Midhurst, Sussex, England; and by descent until

Christie’s, London, 7 July 2016, lot 1.


C.H. Collins Baker, Lely and the Stuart Portrait Painters, vol. I, London 1912, pp. 30 [illus.] & 77, as ‘Paul van Somer, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1612’.

This portrait of a noblewoman, with her piercing green eyes and almost white-blonde hair, is in remarkable state of preservation, the braille-like paint surface providing a superb and jewel-like example of the work of the renowned Jacobean artist, William Larkin.  It can be dated to around 1615 – 1616, after which the large cartwheel ruff fell from fashion. The sitter’s heavily embroidered and bejeweled black dress is cut very low, a typical feature of high Jacobean fashion, to reveal a pearlescent chest of milky skin and a maze of aristocratic ‘blue-blooded’ veins.


Our portrait was published in 1912 by the eminent art historian Collins Baker as by the Flemish émigré artist Paul van Somer (c. 1577 – 1622). At that time the portrait was in the collection of Richard Verney, 19th Baron Willoughby de Broke (1869 – 1923), at Compton Verney, Kineton in Warwickshire. Collins Baker compared it stylistically as an influence on another female portrait which he attributed as an early Cornelius Johnson, that of A Lady, possibly Frances Cotton, Lady Montagu, of Boughton Castle, Northamptonshire’ – then in the Lords North collection at Wroxton Abbey – but now in the collection of The Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, USA, and subsequently attributed to Robert Peake. Collins Baker even implied the two sitters may have been related.[1] Whilst in terms of costume, colouring and hairstyle there is a synergy between the two works, they are clearly painted by different hands.

Although the identity of our sitter has been lost over time, we are grateful to Edward Town of the Yale Center for British Art for noting the proximity of Kineton to Charlecote Park, the home of the Lucy family who were patrons of Larkin.

Little is known of William 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. It is almost certain that he was the son of an innkeeper named William Larkin living in the parish of St Sepulchre, a close neighbour of the royal portrait painter Robert Peake, who very likely introduced the young Larkin to painting. Although Larkin never occupied an official position at court, he is celebrated for his spectacularly decorative full-length portraits of members of the court of James I of England.





[1] Op. cit., p. 77.

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