Completed Dress and Textiles, East of England and The Midlands: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 27 Could this actually be a portrait of Lady Mary Wroth?

Topic: Subject or sitter

I don't know which of these inscriptions is original. If the inscription ‘Aetat 32 – 1619’ is the oldest, Alethea does not look like the portrait which Rubens paints next year, in 1620 (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya) [and Alistair Brown, Art UK, additionally adds Alte Pinakothek in Munich]. We do not know precisely when Lady Arundel was born. Mary Worth was born in 1587, so she was exactly 32 in 1619. On the other hand, the attribution to Alethea could be possible if she was painted younger. She used to wear that kind of jewellery with the letters IHS she was wearing at her breast in the portraits by Rubens and Mytens (c.1618)

Clara B, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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Andrew Thrush,

You may well be right. The inscription claiming that this is Aletheia, countess of Arundel in 1605 is certainly suspect. It is not in a contemporary hand, and Aletheia did not marry Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel until the summer of 1606.

Jacinto Regalado,

I personally am rather more interested in who painted this highly accomplished portrait. One possibility is Daniel Mytens, whose first important patron in London was Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. His known portrait (c. 1618) of Alathea, Countess of Arundel, is below:

Other possibilities include Paul van Somer, William Larkin and, less likely, Cornelius Johnson.

Jacinto Regalado,

Robert Peake has also been suggested as the potential artist here, but while that is not out of the question, I find him less likely.

Jacinto Regalado,

Unless Lady Mary (Sidney) Wroth was a Catholic, would she have worn an IHS jewel as in this picture?

Jacob Simon,

Paul van Somer the most likely artist of those suggested. Not Larkin, Johnson or Peake.

Jacinto Regalado,

The known portraits of the Countess of Arundel by Mytens and Rubens do not look like our sitter, whose face is more striking. Those known portraits show a rather bland, placid face.

Jacob, what do you think about Mytens?

Jacob Simon,

The portrait lacks Mytens' solidity.

It is a tricky one. Attached is a composite between our portrait and one by Van Somer on ArtUK, a full-length described as Portrait of an Unknown Lady, Paulus van Somer I (1576–1621) (style of), National Trust, Penrhyn Castle.

Except that I have taken a detail from the full-length and reversed it.

I think that our portrait is a fragment of a larger picture. Arms were never cut off in this crude way in portrait of the period. I think that the Aetat 32 – 1619 is a copy of the original inscription.

Our portrait is by or after Van Somer, I suspect.

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Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Jacob, that is very suggestive, assuming the Penrhyn picture has been properly attributed. Interestingly, according to the NT entry, it was previously attributed to Mytens, and is now listed as "manner of Paulus van Somer" and dated c. 1615-1620. Another picture at Penrhyn, also listed as manner of van Somer and also previously attributed to Mytens, is below:

Jacinto Regalado,

To my eye, if this is by van Somer, the face is above his usual level. It is a rather intense face, which would appear to go rather better with a woman like Mary Sidney/Wroth than the Countess of Arundel, but that is hardly proof.

Tim Wilks,

I discussed this portrait with my former PhD student Chris Higgins back in 2016. The current identification to Aletheia, countess of Arundel, is unsustainable, but as Ingestre Hall later became a Talbot property, the sitter may nonetheless be a Talbot lady. Looking for one such, qualified as possibly ‘Aetat 32/ 1619’, there is the relatively overlooked first cousin of the celebrated three Talbot sister-countesses: Gertrude (b. circa 1588), da. of Henry, younger bro of Gilbert and Edward, 7th and 8th earls of Shrewsbury. She married Robert Pierrepoint, later 1st earl of Kingston upon Hull. The Pierrepoints were fervently Catholic, which accords with the IHS jewel. There are few known records of Gertrude, though the diarist of Ben Jonson's walk to Scotland notes her at Welbeck when Jonson dined there, referring to her as ‘Mrs Purpoint’, possibly not a Jac spelling variation but a pun, particularly if Gertrude had a reputation as a fancy dresser, a purpoint being a high-fashion quilted doublet (N.B., Mary Q of S, described at her execution: 'Her purpoint was of black figured satin'). Chris, at the time, drew my attention to its likeness to the sitter in the Penrhyn portrait, which is indeed persuasive. By/after Van Somer.

Vitolg Mazursky,

Please take a look at the attached portrait of Sir Philip Sidney, Lady Wroth's uncle. I find the resemblance striking.

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Jacob Simon,

This discussion, “Could this actually be a portrait of Lady Mary Wroth?”, asks about the identity of the sitter but inevitably questions around the artist have also risen.

On the artist, by or attributed to Paul van Somer is favoured in my post of 9 July, Jacinto’s of 10 July and Tim Wilks of 12 July. While I think the portrait is probably autograph, it is difficult to be confident from a web image so I would suggest “Attributed to Paul van Somer”.

On the sitter, this is more difficult. I think we can rule out Lady Mary Wroth who may be the right age but without other supporting evidence. The inscription on the portrait identifying it as Alathea Talbot, Countess of Arundel and Surrey, is clearly not original and this identification is not tenable.

Tim has tentatively asked if the portrait could represent Gertrude Talbot (b. circa 1588), who married Robert Pierrepoint, later 1st earl of Kingston upon Hull. The same objection arises as for Lady Mary Wroth, i.e. Gertrude Talbot may be the right age but we do have much other supporting evidence. I think it will be difficult to take matters of identification further.

So my sense is that the title should be changed to Unknown lady, called Alathea Talbot (c.1590–1654), Countess of Arundel and Surrey, and the artist to Attributed to Paul van Somer. Or something along these lines.

Jacinto Regalado,

I fully expect it's autograph work, and if by van Somer, then a quite fine example of his work.

Louis Musgrove,

Looking at the dress- this is someone of the highest status-possibly royal.
Here is Elisabeth of France with similar dress.,-Queen-consort-of-Spain,-c.-1620.html
On a look alike basis- here is a very similar portrait facewise of Lady Anne Clifford by Larkin

Jacinto Regalado,

This remarkable portrait should be addressed by a Jacobean period specialist. What does Group Leader Rab MacGibbon think of it?

Luke A Aaron,

I believe this to be Brighid Nic Gearailt, Bridgit Fitzgerald, wife of Rory O’Donnell who left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls.

That is why she dresses like a high noble or royal, as Louis has suggested. She was one of the last Gaelic Irish Queens, the last Queen of Tyrconnell, or Countess of Tyrconnell by English/Scottish reckoning under James I.

I believe that there was a fashion for dressing in the colours of the Irish royal house/family, so here she is in the black and white/silver of the arms of O’Donnell, which can be seen here in comparison with another sitter dressed similarly, which Jacob has already shown, who could be Ellis O’Neill, daughter of The Great O’Neill, in the red, blue and white of O’Neill:

I also believe our sitter is the same sitter as the heavily-discussed ‘Who might be the artist of this portrait and the sitter portrayed?’ There she wears traditional Irish clothing and her face has been over-painted to lighten it, which slightly affects the features.

Bridget was known as a famous Gaelic poetess, although hardly any of her work survives, and she was known as a great beauty (I think the portrait suggests she is) and is probably a great-great-granddaughter of Henry VIII, via Henry Carey.

Her mother and grandmother were two of the most powerful ladies-in-waiting of Elizabeth I in her latter days. Facially she looks very similar to her mother, Frances Howard Fitzgerald Brooke, Baroness Cobham, earlier Countess of Kildare:

I believe portraits of the last Gaelic royals are lost in plain sight in collections and museums in England, misidentified or listed as ‘unknown man/woman.’ No-one has ever been trying to find them all these years, no-one imagined it was possible.

Regarding Mary Wroth, I think portraits of her are lost in plain sight also:

Howard Jones,

There is a certain similarity between this Lady, Mary Wroth and Philip Sidney but not a strong resemblance.

Unlike Mary Wroth our Lady appears to have a dimpled chin.

Jacob Simon,

I fear that identifications based on the colour and richness of the costume are not enough (20/05/2024).

I suggest that my post of 11/02/2022 provides a basis for closing this discussion.

Luke A Aaron,

I should clarify further that the dress she wears is an Irish traditional style, a guna with the v-neck, and a cloak attached, as seen worn by women in these illustrations of Irish dress from around 1575 from ‘Corte beschryvinghe van Engeland, Scotland ende Ireland’ by Lukas de Heere:

I’d also say that the richness of the dress should also strike you, rather than be a subject for quick dismissal – how can there be a woman dressed as richly as a queen (and in a dress in an Irish style) but the sitter is completely unknown to us, not quickly recognizable as a queen or princess of the period?

Because England waged a war, which it won, against Irish Gaelic culture. Portraits of the kings/earls would have been destroyed, but portraits of the women continue on it seems, as they lived on, had friends, remarried, lived in England or in English-controlled Ireland, etc. Perhaps their portraits remaining are all not clearly named as any that were would have been destroyed.

Therefore we have a women in an Irish Gaelic cultural dress style, but as richly as a queen. In this style, there are various unknown sitters in portraits, sometimes in dresses of garish colours. The colours match the colours of the Irish noble houses, making this sitter Bridgit, a famous women in Irish history. Her mother was famous and has a well-known portrait, so is there family resemblance? They could almost be the same person, the features are almost exactly the same. Therefore this is Bridget Fitzgerald O’Donnell.

At this point it is much more likely that I’m right than I’m wrong, going by the evidence, as this women dressed like a queen but with elements of Irish dress has to be SOMEONE, and someone very important, known in history for the period, like a queen or high noble.

It seems that I’m the only person in the field at all who has thought deeply on potential lost portraits of the Gaelic Irish queens/countesses.

If I’m correct then this portrait is easily the greatest Irish art discovery ever.

Bridgit Fitzgerald O’Donnell, the last Queen of Tyrconnell, one of the last Gaelic Irish royals, wife of Rory O’Donnell who left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls.

Thank you for letting me post here to get my conclusions across.

Jacob Simon,

Re the previous post. (1) Rich costume of the sort seen in our painting was common at court among the English nobility. (2) The costumes illustrated in the links in the previous post are rather different to our painting. (3) Our painting is likely the work of Van Somer who worked in London, meaning that we are looking at the nobility at court or living in London for our sitter.

Jacinto Regalado,

Is it feasible for Group Leader Rab MacGibbon to address the matter of attribution?

Luke A Aaron,

1. Therefore also on Irish nobility. If she’s that highly-placed at the English court, who is she? The v-neck on the dress was not common at court, it was not English fashion style. Any other sitters that are dressed and styled similarly to our sitter are also unidentified and I suggest that they are Gaelic royals/nobles, such as:

The dress does somewhat resemble one worn by Elizabeth Stuart when Queen of Bohemia, albeit with much fewer pearls, from the workshop of Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt:

Bridget’s mother was the governess of Elizabeth Stuart, so the two would have been well-known to each other, even be sisterly perhaps. It is entirely possible that Bridget was at the coronation of Elizabeth as Queen of Bohemia in Prague in 1619, the year of the portrait, and came via London to travel there.

The black strings hanging from the ears of our sitter may well show mourning, and the death and funeral of Anne of Denmark was in 1619, the year of our portrait. It is entirely possible that Bridget was at the funeral, in London, in 1619.

2. The costumes illustrated are styled exactly like our sitter: a v-neck with an embroidered border that then continues down the front of the dress and with jewelry worn in the bare v of the neck. As I have shown, that style is visible in the only historically-documented depiction of Irish dress from before the end of Gaelic culture.

3. Irish nobles would have visited the English court and been painted when there. As I've said, Bridget may well have gone to the Funeral of Anne of Denmark in London, and the coronation of Elizabeth Stuart and gone via London to get there, both in 1619, the year of the portrait, as she was closely connected to both from youth via her mother.

Jacob Simon,

While I don't think the previous post is convincing, it does not negate my suggestion of 11/02/2022 that this portrait , for lack of evidence, is of an unknown lady probably by Paul van Somer. I will say no more.

Luke A Aaron,

Sorry to take up your time on something that didn't convince you, Jacob.

You cannot rule out what I say, of course, re. lost Gaelic Queens. These unidentified highly-placed women have to be SOMEONE significant, of course.