Continental European before 1800, Dress and Textiles, East of England and The Midlands: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 38 Could a better attribution be found for this portrait of Elizabeth Risby with her daughter Elizabeth and a servant?

Topic: Other

I was browsing the catalogue for the auction which the Dorotheum in Vienna will be holding on 18 December 2019 (‘Old Master Paintings’), when I came across a painting which is remarkably like this one. It is Lot 399, entitled ‘Portrait of a Lady with her Daughter and a Page’, attributed to the North Italian School, second half of the 17th Century, with a tentative attribution to Pier Francesco Cittadini (1616–1681).

Perhaps this information could help firm up the attribution?

The catalogue:
The picture from the catalogue:

Edward Clarence-Smith, Entry reviewed by Art UK


The donor of this and another work in the same collection (‘Elizabeth Risby, with John’ ) was A. D. Harrison. The manors of Brook Hall and Maidenhall remained in the possession of the Risby family until nearly the middle of the 18th century, when the male line died out, and the manors passed in the female line to the Fiskes and then to the Harrisons. See ‘The Risbys of Felsham’

The donor was most likely one of those Harrisons, but perhaps this could be verified?

The 1992 accession number is not a clear indication of when the object came into the collection. 1992 was simply a year when much of the collection was given the accessions numbers they have today. They may have come from one of the local authority’s other buildings such as the old council offices, the Athenaeum or even the former clock Museum.

Jacinto Regalado,

The servant appears vaguely Oriental, and the woman certainly appears more Italian than English.

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, the servant would fit Native American better than someone from India or China, but if this is Elizabeth Risby, how (or where) would Cittadini have painted her?

Edward Clarence-Smith,

Yes, Jacinto's last question was my question. I looked up Cittadini's biography (admittedly in Wikipedia) and he seems never to have gone to the UK, or even left Italy. So unless Elizabeth Risby went to Italy at some point (which might have been the case if she had been a man - doing the Grand Tour), I really don't see how the two ever connected. From which I deduce that either the painting is not of Elizabeth Risby, or that the painting being sold tomorrow at the Dorotheum is not by Cittadini but by an artist who made it to the UK - or some painter saw the original Cittadini painting and made a copy of it, and this copy made its way to the UK and somehow it was thought to be of Elizabeth Risby.

Turning the question around, and focusing for a moment on the page, while I could see an Englishwoman ending up with a Native American page - through the colonies - I have difficulty understanding how an Italian woman would have ended up with such a page, which argues against the sitter being an Italian woman.

Best keep an open mind on the servant's ethnicity based simply on facial appearance: the dress and the shaved head look more oriental and if it (and the other painting) are by or after Cittadini then there are some other geographical circles to square: was Elizabeth Risby in Italy there, was Cittadini or followers in England, or is it really Elizabeth Risby at all. In the absence of hard evidence, identities (not least 'non-European' ones, as we've seen elsewhere) are often a minefield of wishful-thinking.

Jacinto Regalado,

If both Suffolk pictures show Elizabeth Risby, it seems rather extravagant for minor gentry to have had both an Oriental or Native American servant and also an African one.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is, of course, possible that neither servant was an actual person but a type, used as an exotic decorative touch not unlike the birds.

West Suffolk Heritage Service,

Over the past ten years, we have tried to do quite a bit of research into our two paintings and never really come up with anything definitive. Suggestions such as the slave being an Iroquois Indian (based on the haircut) have been mooted. Ultimately, I have never come up with any reason why this should be Elizabeth of Risby, or whether she had New World links beyond our apparently being told by the donor. The link cited earlier in the feeds ( was provided by a former colleague of mine, but I'm not sure I would agree with the New World statement. Elizabeth, I believe, was recorded as being the sole heir of Francis Cornwallis, which means her familial ties to the New World Governor Cornwallis' family are removed, despite their being a local family based at Culford Hall, but there is no suggestions she had estates in the colonies. I'm also not entirely sure her Son was called John, as the second picture states. I agree that I have no idea how an Italian would have come to paint minor Suffolk aristocracy. In short the only reason our pictures are attributed to being Elizabeth Risby is because they came from her one time house, albeit, probably over two hundred years after her death. I think it more likely our two paintings are a copy of (possibly) an Italian subject matter.

Al Brown,

The Suffolk painting is substantially smaller than that in the Vienna auction which, together taking into account the truncated composition and its lesser quality, suggests it is a copy. Whether the Vienna painting is the original - and was also accompanied by a companion work - is another matter.

There are elements in these which remind me of Flemish rather than Italian works. If that were correct, it would provide a link between a painting in Suffolk - with its trading links to Flanders - and Austria.

Jacinto Regalado,

Cittadini, the purported author, was influenced by Flemish artists living in Rome and is best known now for his many still lifes.

Jacinto Regalado,

There was a Chinese servant at Knole in the 18th century, who was painted by Reynolds, but Knole was a much grander establishment.

Edward Clarence-Smith,

So I think there is consensus that the "Elizabeth with Elizabeth" painting is a copy of another painting, either the one that was being sold today at the Dorotheum or of another painting of which both paintings were copies. I suppose it is still of interest to know who painted the original painting and who was the sitter, since that might explain how "Elizabeth with Elizabeth" ended up in Suffolk. Although Jacinto Regalado suggests that neither the servant nor the birds (parrots, I would assume) might be real but were used as exotic decorative touch, I would think that they were chosen as having some sort of link to the sitter. Looking at the global range of parrots, I could imagine either a South American link (the page then being an Amerindian) or a South-East Asian link (the page then being from S-E Asia); the range of parrots doesn't stretch to China, so I would rule out a Chinese link. In turn, this to me suggests that the sitter was either Spanish or she was Dutch.

Edward Clarence-Smith,

Turning to the "Elizabeth with John" painting, which very likely is neither of Elizabeth or of John, what I am intrigued by is the house which one can see (not very well) in the background. It seems to me to have an architecture that I would associate with the UK or Northern Europe. Or is that too fanciful?

What also intrigues me is the little flag which the woman is holding. It seems to be showing a heart with two arrows through it. Does this mean anything?

Jacinto Regalado,

The architecture you mention, Edward, looks vaguely classical but non-specific as to country, at least to me. The picture also looks like a copy, and not an especially accomplished one.

In the light of the last St Edmonsbury comments, might it not be better to start by confirming the artist? (1) Is this Cittadini or at least after him ? (2) If so then one next needs to know if he habitually painted identifiable portraits (though the sitters may in these cases be unidentifiable) or just elaborate but anonymous figure subjects.

West Suffolk Heritage Service,

Further to Edward Clarence Smith's comment, I have often wondered about the flag with the heart. If anyone has any ideas I would be really interested.

Louis Musgrove,

To Bury St Eds Mus--- What I see is a servant holding a tray of flower blooms and the Lady attaching a flower to the little girls hair.Does that make sense??

Jacinto Regalado,

A potential problem with the Cittadini attribution is the missed opportunity for a much more elaborate and impressive floral still life, which was a Cittadini speciality, whereas the flowers here are fairly basic and workmanlike, particularly in the vase.

As has I think already been nooted it may be 'after' in a slightly modified form, but the issue remains primarily whether it is a portrait of named people (the Risbys) or just a genre piece: i.e. an Itanate import to which circumstance has misleadingly attached British sitter names. That's the simple explanation to be proved wrong. Identifying the artist as probably 'Cittadini or after' is itself an advance.

Edward Clarence-Smith,

Going back to Pieter van der Merwe's question - "might it not be better to start by confirming the artist?" - I've been trawling the internet to see as many paintings by Cittadini (or attributed to him) as I can find. So far, I've looked at about 60. I have to say, I find the Dorotheum's attribution more and more difficult to believe. Assuming that the painting in question is a portrait, Cittadini's portraits are much more formal, clothing is richer, the setting is always an interior, there are few "props". I attach a selection of the ones I have come across. There's also one Cittadini portrait in the Art UK database.

ArtUK was sent a link to another version of the companion to this painting It was appearing at an auction in France late last year but the link no longer works - unless someone else can find the lot online.

The catalogue entry mentioned that the work for sale was by the same hand (Genoese) as a series on the senses at the MBA Marseilles - they are not illustrated on Joconde

Jacinto Regalado,

Cittadini was active mainly in Bologna, not Genoa, though he spent some time in Rome.

Jacinto Regalado,

Is the apparently formal garden seen at lower right in the Dorotheum picture consistent with one of the Risby seats?

Edward Clarence-Smith,

Thanks, Alistair Brown, for putting life back into this string! I must say, I had rather given up on it.

I've tracked down a link to the catalogue of the auction in France which works (at least for me):

It's clearly the same painting that I saw being auctioned by the Dorotheum in Vienna in December (and where it went unsold).

The catalogue entry in this case claims the painting to be Flemish school 17th Century, which I think makes more sense than the Dorotheum's claim of North Italian school - see in the string above.

As Alistair said, the catalogue goes on to compare the painting to a series of paintings on the theme of the five senses held by the Musee des Beaux Arts in Marseilles, and it gives a rather small copy of black-and-white photos of four of these paintings (which, rather confusingly, were taken from a printed catalogue of the museum's Italian paintings - so Italian or Flemish?). I've sent an email to the museum to see if better photos are available somewhere, and to see if they know more about their attribution.

Jacinto Regalado,

This might be an improvement on the Five Senses images:

The one at lower left is certainly similar in kind and style to the picture under discussion. This lead should be pursued.

I think there were good reasons early in this discussion to rule out Cittadini as our artist. The reappearance of the 'Dorotheum' painting at the Ader auction rooms in Paris on 29/01/21 with their description of 'Flemish School, 17th century' gives support to views expressed here previously that our painting might be Flemish or connected to the Flemish School. If we consider not only the present Risby painting, but also the companion picture held by West Suffolk, it is evident that the house(s) depicted are very grand indeed and rather out of keeping with the means of local English gentry. Also the background to the right of the 'Dorotheum/Ader' painting suggests a Northern European location. The rugged terrain in that painting is rather more pronounced than the background in the 'Risby' painting. From the images provided the West Suffolk 'Risby' is a quite a close copy of the 'Dorotheum/Ader' example but it is evident that the quality of the Risby painting is quite inferior. For example the way in which the child is painted in 'our' picture bears little comparison to the quality of execution of the 'Dorotheum/Ader' work although superficially similar. Logically, the West Suffolk painting(s) must be copies after earlier originals probably by the hand of a noted Flemish School painter, working circa late 17th or early 18th century in date. I found it interesting that large fir trees in 'Dorotheum/Ader' had been replaced with more English looking trees in 'Risby', whether by accident or design. My feeling is that art dealers of the era marketed copies of Flemish paintings in the English 18th century market, being 'vanity' pictures suggesting wealth, position and taste on the part of the new owners (for instance, grand houses, servants from far off lands, and beautiful tropical birds, etc). If this is correct, we will not be able to identify the 'Risby' artist as we are probably looking at copies that may be catalogued as 'Anglo / Flemish School, after a late 17th/early 18th Century Flemish artist'. That is quite close to the existing description as recorded by West Suffolk Heritage Service.

Marcie Doran,

I have been Googling images of parrots. Surely someone who includes two birds in a painting must have painted birds in the past. I have landed on Jakob Bogdani. I don’t see any of his paintings with people in them, but I do see lots of birds. This painting, for example, at the Hungarian National Gallery, includes birds that are similar to those in the mystery painting.

Still-life with Fruits, Parrots and White Cockatoo
Jakab Bogdány

According to Wikipedia:
“Jakob Bogdani (6 May 1658 - 11 November 1724), whose names are sometimes spelt Jacob and Bogdány, was a Hungarian and British artist well known for his still life and exotic bird paintings.”

Marcie Doran,

Bogdany has many paintings that include large garden vessels but not many are adorned with decorative heads.

This painting includes a decorative head that protrudes from the surface of a pewter bowl.

“Fruit in a Pewter Bowl with a Parrot“

The following painting shows a decorative head that is similar to the one in the mystery painting protruding from a stone vase. The stone vase also has a similar curve at the top.

“Exotic Fowl in an Ornamental Garden beside a Stone Vase, a Fountain beyond”

Note that this painting also includes a fountain in the background that is similar to the one in the mystery painting. The bottom of the fountain in the mystery painting is the same as the middle of the fountain in this painting.

Marcie Doran,

I have yet to find a person in a Bogdani painting.

The note that accompanies the following painting states that it is “[E]vidently the work of two hands, one a specialist painter of flowers in elaborate vessels and settings in the manner of Monnoyer, possibly the Hungarian, Bogdani”.

“Flowers in an Urn, with a Boy feeding Cherries to Two Parrots”
“possibly Jakob Bogdani (Eperjes (now Presov), Hungary c.1660 – Finchley 1724) and Jan van der Vaart (Haarlem 1647 – London 1721)”

Marcie Doran,

I have been searching for bird cages that are similar to the one in the Vienna painting.

1. “A View through a House” by Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678) has a similar cage but it has heavy vertical supports.

2. “A Woman Playing a Clavichord” by Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) has a similar cage but it has heavy vertical supports.

3. “A Lady with a Parrot on Her Left Hand” by Gonzales Coques (c.1614–1684) has a similar cage but it has heavy vertical supports.

4. “Interior with a Woman Feeding a Parrot, Known as ‘The Parrot Cage’” by Jan Havicksz. Steen, c. 1660 - c. 1670, is similar but has heavy vertical supports.

5. “Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria” by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) has a nearly identical cage that might have been an antique when painted.

Marcie Doran,

I have been searching for chairs that are similar to the one in the Vienna painting. The four examples that I have found are 17th century Dutch and the chair that is most similar is dated 1642.

1. The chair on the right in “A Maid Asleep”, ca. 1656–57 by Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, is similar and the back is even at a slight slant.

2. The two chairs in “Woman Reading a Letter”, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663 are similar but the heads at the top look like lions

3. This chair in the Rijksmuseum is similar but the heads look like lions. “Stoel van palissanderhout, bekleed met groen laken, waarop een versiering van oranjekoord, anonymous, c. 1610 - c. 1650”
(Rosewood chair, covered with green cloth, with an orange cord decoration, anonymous, c. 1610 - c. 1650),-sofas-and-beds/objects#/BK-NM-5837,1

4. This print at the Rijksmuseum “Zes stoelen en drie krukken, Crispijn van de Passe (II), 1642” (Six Chairs and Three Stools, Crispijn van de Passe (II), 1642) is most similar - it includes the fringe. Note the slant. The information box has more details and indicates the print was prepared in Amsterdam.,159

Marcie Doran,

Perhaps the little flag the woman is holding in “Elizabeth, with John” was made from a playing card. It could be a “9” in the top right corner. She might have created the little flag to amuse her son.

See examples of Dutch cards with one heart in the middle here:
1. “The Card Game on the Cradle: Allegory, Johannes van Wijckersloot (attributed to), 1643 - 1683”

2. “Man and Woman Playing Cards
Anthonie Palamedesz. (1601–1673) (circle of)”

Marcie Doran,

The companion painting “Elizabeth Risby, with John” might have been painted in 1643 when the Congolese Ambassador Don Miguel de Castro went to Amsterdam with two servants Diego Bemba and Pedro Sunda. All three men had their likenesses painted by J. Beckx (dates unknown). One of the servants, Diego Bemba, looks like the young black servant in “Elizabeth Risby with Elizabeth”.

“KMS9 Ubekendt (Dutch)
Jaspar Beckx (Dutch, Before 1627 - 1647), earlier ascribed to
Albert Eckhout (Dutch, 1610 - 1665), earlier ascribed to
Diego Bemba, a Servant of Dom Miguel de Castro
DATE Circa 1643”

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