It girls of the Elizabethan age

Portrait of Margaret Gerard, Lady Legh, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park, 2011. ©National Trust Collections

This striking full-length portrait is among the objects recently accepted by the Government in lieu of tax and allocated to Lyme Park.

Portrait of Blanche Parry, possibly by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, at Tredegar House, Newport. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

It depicts Margaret Gerard (1569/70-1603), the wife of Sir Peter Legh IX (1563-1636), who completed and extended the Elizabethan house at Lyme.

Portrait of Elizabeth I, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. ©Trinity College, University of Cambridge, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The portrait is attributed to the Tudor court painter Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/2-1636) who, together with his father, came to England from the southern Netherlands.

Portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, by school of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. ©Glasgow Museums, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Gheeraerts the Younger introduced a more three-dimensional style of portraiture to English art, with more emphasis on capturing the character of the sitter. Moreover, he occasionally portrayed people with a smiling expression, which was rare at this time.

Portrait possibly of Anne Keighley, Mrs William Cavendish, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I did a search on the excellent Your Paintings database of oil paintings in UK public collections and found a number of other portraits of ladies by or in the style of Gheeraerts the Younger.

Portrait of an unknown pregnant lady, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate, 1999. ©Tate, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Seeing the Lyme portrait in the company of these portraits of other Elizabethan ‘it girls’ by the same artist really brings home the strangeness and splendour of Elizabethan court dress and body language.

Portrait of an unknown lady, aged 31, holding a glove and fan, in the style of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

It also demonstrates the huge value of both the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and the Public Catalogue Foundation/Your Paintings project to preserving and opening up our heritage.

9 Responses to “It girls of the Elizabethan age”

  1. Alison Lane Says:

    ‘it girls’ Love it!!

  2. PGT Says:

    Emile, wonderful to see these, and the portrait of the pregnant woman-is this rare? Not to be pregnant but to be painted in that state? I just did a post on 2 sistere known as the IT girls.

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Alison.

    Gaye, I have just learnt, through the commentary by Karen Hearn on this painting on the Tate website (, that it was relatively common to depict women as pregnant in English portraits between about 1560 and 1630, but not during other periods – one wonders what caused these ‘pregnacy portraits’ (as Karen Hearn calls them) to be so popular then?

    That’s a great post about the original Edwardian ‘it’ girls, Lucy and Elinor Sutherland, who became respectively the fashion designer Lucile and the author Elinor Glyn.

    As it happens, the latter was the mistress of one of the National Trust’s early benefactors, Lord Curzon. He was leasing Montacute House, Somerset, at the time and although Glyn was accustomed to luxury she endured the arctic conditions at Montacute while the house was being done up, out of devotion for Curzon. Glyn’s novels and her lifestyle attracted a degree of scandalised comment, and a contemporary clerihew runs as follows:

    Would you like to sin
    With Elinor Glyn
    On a tiger skin?
    Or would you prefer
    To err with her
    On some other fur?

  4. Andrew Says:

    Indeed, Gheeraerts the Younger did the (seemingly equally pregnant) “Portrait of a Woman in Red” –

    These portraits are so much more refined than The Cholmondeley Ladies, which has a similar date (and a similarly unusual subject, just a few months later!) –

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, thanks very much for that link. That catalogue entry (again by Karen Hearn) also offers an explanation of the thinking behind this sub-genre of ‘pregnancy portraits’:

    ‘At a time when a wife’s principal role was to bear as many healthy heirs as possible to perpetuate and extend a family’s name and influence, such a portrait would act as a form of visual evidence of anticipated dynastic success. At the same time, the childbirth process was potentially so hazardous that the portrait might also act as a record of the features of a beloved individual who could shortly die.’

    Indeed, the pair of Cholmondeley ladies and their babies look almost hieratic by comparison – but fascinating.

  6. Cyntha Says:

    Thank you for these both marvelous & strange portraits.
    Over and over women are depicted in portraits holding fans and a glove. While I can sort of understand the fan, can you explain the significance of the glove? Thank you.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Cyntha, that’s an interesting question, and I don’t immediately know the answer, beyond the fact that they were presumably seen as elegant accessories. I will ask various colleagues if they know whether the glove had any symbolic significance.

    That reminds me of the marvelous and mysterious Velazquez in the Wallace Collection, where the lady also has a fan and is actually wearing her gloves:

  8. style court Says:

    I think this event may have sold out, but the Scottish National Portrait Gallery has an upcoming related happening: Dressed to Thrill. Part of the focus is 16th and 17th-century costume and fashion in portraiture.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for that Courtney – what a wonderful event – with it boys as well as it girls 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: