Photo credit: National Maritime Museum
This is a portrait of Captain (later Admiral Sir) Edward Hughes. It is one of only two in UK public ownership by Violante Beatrice Siries Ceroti, a Florentine artist. The other is a head and shoulders version of this one, held by the National Trust at Tredegar House. Art UK has not yet corrected the identity of the sitter from Captain George Stoney (before c.1742–1786). George Stoney was a captain of 1781, so never wore the 1748–1767 uniform shown in both versions discussed. (Art UK note: we have contacted the collection about this, and look forward to hearing from them).
The likely reason for this past misidentification and the unexplained common provenance of the two paintings is explained in an updated account in the National Maritime Museum database. I will adjust it further if this discussion prompts useful additions or further clarifications. One of the most useful sources, though with some uncertainties in it, has been the following:
But, there is still a query over the 1765 or 1772 date of Hughes's second marriage.
Hughes's birth date (from an Ancestry family tree and TBC) also appears to be 1717, though it seems calculated on reported age at death. Stoney passed in April 1760 – this as the basis of the year of his birth being c.1742. This presupposes the he was at least about 18 when he died, rather than 11/12 if he was born c.1749, as given by the National Trust.
Here's the description of this portrait on the National Maritime Museum website (abbreviated):
'A full-length portrait very slightly to left and facing to right wearing captain's, over three years, full-dress uniform 1748–1767. His hat is under his left arm and in his right hand he holds a letter inscribed "Captain Hughes on the Somerset att Quebec". He stands on a quay with a ship's bows in the background.
In 1761 Hughes visited the Italian port of Leghorn in the "Somerset", which he had commanded since 1757 including at Wolfe's taking of Quebec in 1759. He took the opportunity to visit nearby Florence and to have his portrait painted by Violante Beatrice Siries, also known by her married name of Madame Cerroti. [...artist info omitted...] This highly stylized portrait shows the artist's fascination for the elaborate detailing of Hughes's naval uniform: by contrast, the representation of the "Somerset" (rear left) is poor, even for a painter not specialising in them. It is inscribed "Violante Be[a]trix [inscription spelling TBC] Siries de Cerroti fecit Florentine Annus 1761" on a stone lying below Hughes's left hand on the edge of the quay and is in a fine Italian carved poplar frame, probably the original one.
The artist appears to have done a smaller head-and-shoulders version of the portrait for Hughes at the same time (since it is also reported as signed and dated 1761 on the back). The only differences are a darker background and that Hughes's right hand is shown holding a short telescope. Hughes may have ordered the small version as a potential gift, even if he did not immediately have a recipient in mind. That one is now owned by the National Trust at Tredegar House, Newport, South Wales, but has long been misidentified as showing Captain George Stoney (born before c.1742–d.1786) although the error was first pointed out by the NMM in 1978. It was probably mistaken for Stoney sometime in the mid-19th century, after the marriage of his daughter Mary Margaret in 1791 to Sir Charles Morgan, 2nd baronet of Tredegar (1760–1846). This brought Stoney into the Morgan pedigree and it was his eldest grandson by Mary who later became 1st baron Tredegar.
The Hughes connection is via Sir Charles's elder sister, Jane [Gould] Morgan (1759–1846) who married Captain Henry Ball RN (c.1754–1792). On either 7 November 1765 or 19 May 1772, the latter became stepson of Hughes – and was later his flag captain when Commander in Chief in India – through Hughes's second marriage to Ball's widowed mother Ruth (1731–1800, though her surname is given as Wheeler in 1765, presupposing an intervening husband). Hughes's first wife from 1753 (Mrs Ann Peters, nee Jacob, widow of Dr Charles Peters, d.1746) died in childbirth in January 1755 at his house in Ealing, before he went back to sea in 1756 after over five years ashore. He had no children of his own by either marriage, eventually leaving all his property, apart from minor gifts, to Ruth for her disposal. This does not explain why the misidentification of the smaller version of the portrait has lasted so long, since the full-length also belonged to the Morgans and was acquired from the 6th baron Tredegar via Christie's in 1961, without so-far known record of it being thought to show Stoney (though it may have been). It too probably arrived at Tredegar via the Ball connection: for after Captain Ball died in 1792 and Hughes in 1794, the former's widow, Jane, remarried in 1793 to Samuel Homfray of Merthyr Tydfil and Pennydarren, Glamorgan, coal owner and iron-master. This facilitated favourable terms for Homfray leasing mineral land on the Tredegar estate from her father, Sir Samuel Morgan, 1st baronet (d.1806), on which he built the Tredegar Ironworks. Lady Hughes died, aged 69, early in 1800 and even if both versions of the portrait were then still with her, that is when they are likely to have passed to her son's widow Jane as most closely relevant family member to have them, though Ruth Hughes’s will also shows that Jane and Henry Ball also had a daughter, Mary. It is also possible that Hughes himself had already given one, most probably the smaller, to Henry directly. In short, though exact details of how they reached the Morgan/Tredegar family are lacking, the connection between the two portraits, and their likely course there either separately or together by shortly after 1800 is one of personal links. They are also the only known examples by Siries in UK public holdings.
Hughes saw long service in 1773–1778, and again in 1779–1783, as Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies, most of this during the War of American Independence. He was knighted in 1778 and in its later stages fought five hard actions against the French off India (1782–1783). He returned home immensely rich from the perquisites of the command but lived in unshowy retirement thereafter. His substantial figure when an admiral appears in Sir Joshua Reynolds's later portrait of 1786–1787 in the Greenwich Hospital collection, (BHC2972). This too shows him full length holding a letter, turned to viewer's left, a pose perhaps chosen to complement the present picture. While recorded as "The bequest of the Admiral to Greenwich Hospital" it is not mentioned in his will and is presumed to have been an informal one via Lady Hughes.'
This discussion is now closed. The birth date of Captain Sir Edward Hughes has been found to be c.1716, and parts of the sitter's biography have been clarified. A more detailed painting description has been added to this record on Art UK, and the National Maritime Museum has also revised its own collection record.
Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.
Thanks for putting this up for comment. Two minor clarifications: (1) an Art UK editorial adjustment in the preamble says 'Stoney passed in 1760' which should read 'Stoney passed for Lieutenant in 1760' (the usual minimum age for doing so was around 18 and hence his likely d.o.b probably being c. 1742 than the c. 1749 usually found) (2) The NMMCollections on-line text has already had minor further editing from that above, but not affecting substance.
Sorry...further clarification of preamble as edited: George Stoney was at least about 43-44 when he died in 1786, of 'putrid fever' on passage from the West Indies to Portsmouth in HM ship 'Flora', (which he had commanded since 1784) that age being based on him passing his lieutenant's exam in April 1760 at the likely age of about 18, minimum.
According to The Times of Monday 20th January 1794, Admiral Sir Edward Hughes died on the previous Friday 17th January.
An excellent presentation of his naval career can be seen here:
A reference, for those who have access to, to a portrait of Stoney by Violante Siries can be seen here:
On second thoughts, the last mentioned reference sites both Stoney and Siries in the same article, though not necessarily in connection to each other. Might she have painted portraits of both Stoney and Hughes? A full reading of the article will clarify.
Unlikely: I found no evidence of Stoney being in her neck of the woods. It's too complicated to get the piece you cite but I suspect its just picking up on the misidentified Tredegar version, but TBC.
A very detailed description of the naval career of Sir Edward Hughes may be read here, which is featured in Dr. John Campbell's "The Naval History of Great Britain.....including the History and Lives of the British Admirals" (1818). However, it incorrectly states that he died in February 1794, rather than January of that same year, as the extract from The Times above reports:
https://books.google.ie/books?id=_J0_AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA337&dq;="Sir+Edward+Hughes"&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjh3Za19PPZAhVRSsAKHduHC7UQ6AEIMDAC#v=onepage&q="Sir Edward Hughes"&f=false
Additionally, attached is an image of Violante Beatrice Siries, after a portrait painted by Pietro Antonio Pazzi (1706–1766). The date of her birth in Florence is given as 1710 and of her death as 1764. Also attached is a clipping from Charles Baldwin's "Universal Biographical Dictionary...." (1883), which states that Siries died about 1760. These dates contradict the widely published date of her death as being in 1783. Is there any substantial proof that she died in 1783 as opposed to 1764?
Attachments are here.
There seems no easy way to resolve the d.o.b of Siries: neither old references of c.1760 or more recent ones of 1783 specify day or month and the general art-historical spelling of her married name as Ceroti is also odd given she signed 'Cerroti'. However, I'm not sure that's a problem to chase further here given she's such a rare bird in the UK.
It is, however, possible to be more exact than c.1720 on Hughes's age since his tomb at St Mary and All Saints, Lambourne, Essex - which is also where his second wife Ruth and his two Ball stepsons are buried- says he died on 17 January 1794 'aet. 77' (= b. 1717, assuming he was not born in early January). This is in the church's entry of J.P. Neale et al. 'Views of the most interesting collegiate and parochial churches in Great Britain' (1824): even 'old DNB' missed that. NMM online entries will adjust accordingly to (1717-94) and the title of this portrait has had 'Sir' removed since it predates him getting that.
Sorry, I meant date of DEATH for Siries....
I can manage a few clarifications here, Pieter, but not all.
First, the death of Violante Beatrice Siries. I have looked at every C18th/19th book in the Hathi Trust library that references her (there are an awful lot!), and many of those on Archive.org too, and a pattern has emerged. There is no mention of the month/day anywhere, but every volume of art history or general biography published in Italy or France that gives the year, along with numerous locally-published guides to the city of Florence and catalogues of the Royal Art Collection there (in Italian, French or English) going back to 1795 and continuing through till 1897, gives the year as 1783. The 1795 one, the earliest I can find, is 'Firenze - Antica, e Moderna', and can be seen here: https://bit.ly/2pK22r8
Meanwhile in England, and then from 1825 the US, confusion and ignorance inexplicably reigns. Numerous biographical and art historical works starting with Pilkington (1778) and Bryan (1816) and continuing through the C19th, either give nothing at all, or 1760, "about 1760", 1770, 1770?, or "about 1770". I haven't seen another 1764, but since that portrait of Siries is in fact her self-portrait in the Uffizi I won't take it too seriously - and besides she was still alive and working in 1767, as you will shortly see. Oh, and I think (though I can't find the ref. just now) there are dated works by her from the 1770s - oh, hang on, here's one: https://bit.ly/2G2wzeu
An exact date would be nice, but Italian genealogy is challenging and way beyond my capabilities. However, in view of the above, and since 1795 was just 12 years after 1783 (and the information was published in her home city), I think it's safe enough.
Edit: I don't think it changes my conclusion, but the 1775 date on the work at Sothebys may be unreliable - possibly not authentic and/or misread.
I don't know where the 'Ceroti' spellng comes from, Pieter, as it is certainly wrong. Contemporary references to her that include the name consistently spell it as she did, 'Cerroti' - for example these from the Gazzetta Toscana in 1766/67: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433081589552?urlappend=;seq=185 (RH page c.14 lines down) & https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433081589552?urlappend=;seq=358 (LH page c.halfway down).
Some, though, mistake it for her maiden name, e.g. this from 1767: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/gri.ark:/13960/t0sq9qh4x?urlappend=;seq=109 (RH page c.15 lines down).
Sorry about the long links - for some reason using Bitly links for Hathi Trust pages doesn't work properly.
Oh, for goodness' sake, those don't work properly either - they just take you to the first page of the book. Anyway, if you can be bothered, once you've got to the book, for the first link put '140' in the 'jump to' box at the top; for the second, jump to '358'; for the third '109'.
Thanks for that thorough exegesis Osmund: 1783 looks safest and perhaps the Getty name index and others will pick up on 'Cerroti' rather than 'Ceroti' in due course (her husband's first name was Giuseppe). It's certainly better to stick with Florentine usage at the time than what looks like long carelessness - allowing that 18th-c. spelling can be erratic, as indeed was hers: the exact inscription here is apparently: 'Violante Betrix Siries de Cerrotis Florenine anno 1761' (this is from a conservation 'tran' until I can get at it in store). In his retirement, I prompted Teddy Archibald, the former NMM oils curator (and a great friend) to write brief anecdotal recollections of his many acquisitions from 1951 to 1986. They are often amusing and, in this case, his instinct about the rarity of Siries in the UK was correct:
'Hughes commanded the Lowestoft, 64, at Quebec in 1759 and was then dispatched to the Mediterranean. When at Leghorn, he went to Florence, where he had himself painted by this lady artist who, predictably, was very interested in his captain's full-dress uniform and the lace at his throat and cuffs but hadn't a clue about the ship in the background. When this arrived in Christie's basement, the lighting was then so bad that they didn't spot the signature. Hughes is holding a piece of paper on which is written 'HM Ship Lowestoft at Quebec'. Patrick Lindsay of Christie's suggested that it was by some French-Canadian artist: he saw a bit of mileage in that. I said the French would have been more interested in shooting him. Anyway we bought it and I found the signature at Greenwich. It may be the only portrait by her in England.'
On page 285 of Volume 4 of Francesco Moücke's 1762 "Serie Di Ritratti degli Eccellenti Pittori.........", there is an extensive biographical entry for Violante Siries. At the very end of it there is a mention of the portrait of Captain Hughes, "which has just been sent to England". The date of her birth in this entry is the 26th January 1710, although in other sources it is given as 26th January 1709.
Attached to the biographical entry is an engraving, drawn by J. Magni and engraved by Pier Antonio Pazzi. The image shows (as attached above, though not coloured) a self-portrait of the artist, shown with her own portrait depicting her father, who had introduced her to painting. I correct myself for the erroneous suggestion, above, that Pazzi had painted the portrait.
Hah...I was just about to post about that book and biography, Kieran! As I mention above, for some reason Hathi links don’t take you to the correct page but to the beginning of the book – so follow Kieran’s link but then put ‘401’ (NOT the 285 page no.) into the ‘Jump to’ box above, and it will take you to the right place. Note that on the fourth page of the biography (288) Violante’s husband’s name is again given as ‘Cerroti’, and a footnote states that his father was the Florence-born stonemason, Francesco Cerroti. The latter’s name can be found fairly widely online, particularly in the context of his magnificent ecclesiastical work in marble for the architect Alessandro Galilei** in Rome in the 1730s. It is always spelled with two R’s, as is the name of his namesake and gt-grandson, the C19th writer, critic and biographer Francesco Cerroti.
Apologies for the following lengthy aside, but it may be relevant to the commissioning of the Hughes portrait:
**Alessandro Galilei, whose wife was English, and who spent some years in England & Ireland early in the century, worked extensively for visiting Britons on the Grand Tour after his return to Florence in 1719. As well as acting as a cicerone, in the 1720s he arranged copies of famous sculpture, and designed and commissioned new works in marble, such as monuments, for sending back to Britain; and it is clear from many references that his master mason Francesco Cerroti was responsible for many of these.
Cerroti moved to Rome with Galilei in 1732, where the latter died in 1737; but Cerroti (who was certainly still active in 1749) may have continued to work independently on providing “artifacts destined for an English clientele” – a description based on a list of his works in the Archivio Corsini. Francesco Cerroti may not have still been alive in 1761, and even if he was may have been in Rome, not Florence; but it is not hard to see how these long-standing family links with private British clients might have played a part in the choice of his daughter-in-law Violante to paint a pair of portraits for a visiting English naval officer.
It’s beyond the scope of this forum (or me, anyway) to search for any closer links between the known clients of Cerroti/Galilei and Hughes...but an interesting project for some serious student, perhaps. They should probably start here https://bit.ly/2pJbHhh – see espec. pdf page 16 (p.14 as paginated) and notes.
Thank you both for those very interesting additions: I had long wondered if Hughes was at Leghorn long enough to take delivery of his painting(s). He was only there 6 October to 8 December 1761, according to a note we have - presumably taken from the log of the 'Somerset' - but it would certainly be entirely usual for such 'Grand Tour-type' items to be shipped home later in a merchantman (as wonderfully demonstrated a year a two back in the Yale/ Ashmolean show 'The English Prize'). It's therefore interesting to see that appears to have been the case for this full-length and that it was considered a notable example of her work; 'one which expressively naturally shows the standing figure of Captain Hughes, recently sent to England' (in rough translation). Also relevant is the next paragraphs particular praise of her treatment of varieties of fabric etc. I'll update the online decription and when it uploads this discussion can probably finish.
Pieter, I think your maths may be adrift! If Neale's 1824 'Views...'^^ is right in saying - and the transcription seems verbatim - that Sir Edward Hughes was 77 when he died on 17 Jan 1794, then surely it is more likely that he was born in 1716, not 1717 ?**
If he was the firstborn - and he was certainly the eldest son - this would fit well with the marriage of his parents Edward & Elizabeth (Chicheley) in July 1715 (their marriage licence is dated 13/7/1715 - see https://bit.ly/2uLjalK ). (Sir) Edward had two siblings, John and Elizabeth, living and under-age in 1732 when their father wrote his will, but their birth years (and what happened to them) are unknown; he also had another brother, Norton, baptized at Hertingfordbury in April 1720 (but died the following year). Even if Norton were the last, this is a perfectly plausible sequence for a fertile C18th couple - Edward born c. May 1716, then John, Elizabeth (or Eliz, Jno) and Norton born with an average 15-16 months between them.
^^See https://bit.ly/2EnHOc1 . The same information is given in Wright's 'Essex' (1831-5) here: https://bit.ly/2uMTMfK
**If Wright is correct, then his 77th birthday must have been between 18 Jan 1793 & 17 Jan 1794, which would mean he was born between 18 Jan 1716 & 17 Jan 1717 (or 18 Jan 1715⁄6 & 17 Jan 1716/7, but best to ignore the complications of Old Style/New Style for this purpose). All but a fortnight of this range lies in 1716.
Re the date of Sir Edward 's second marriage, there is no doubt that Ed Pope is right that it was on 7 Nov 1765 at St Margaret, Westmister, and it was to the widow Ruth Wheeler - "Edward Hughes of the Parish Hertingfordbury in the County of Hertford, widower" can only be our Edward Hughes. I attach an image of the register. As Mr Pope suggests, the 1772 idea is a red herring by someone who found a Vicar-General's Marriage Licence index entry for Ball (bride) & Hughes (groom) - the only detail given in the Soc.of Genelogists' index - and assumed it must be the right one. See attached (bottom of second page). Unfortunately they didn't bother to check the images of the actual licences - Mr Pope has, and it isn't.
How she came to be - or pretended to be - the widowed Mrs Wheeler, I don't know. Nor do I know whether or not she was ever married to the supposed father of her two sons, "Captain Ball" (who he?). Nor do I know whether or not one or both of the sons was in fact Edward Hughes's...nor even where and exactly when they were born (though the Lambourne memorial implies c.1754 for Captain Henry and c.1760 for David). If they were born in the West Indies Hughes clearly can't have been the father, as he wasn't there after 1750. But were they? If it was in England then certainly Henry and possibly David could theoretically have been his.
What if he had met Ruth in the West Indies before 1750, and then brought her over to England to continue as his mistress thereafter - even as he arranged his lucrative first marriage (which brought him the Ealing property)? Clearly neither the 1804 Farington Diary entry nor the 1799 Fashionable Cypriad mention makes complete sense; but I do wonder if there was some truth in their suggestions - they just got the detail wrong in different ways. I doubt we will ever know for sure...
Many thanks Osmund: that's exactly the sort of clarification I was looking for. My 'maths' was simple subtraction of 1717 from 1794 but (given he died in the January) it would have been more sensible to assume 1716 especially since I did think about whether Neale's record of his age as 'aet. 77' was intended to mean 'aetatis suae ' (in his 77th year) rather than 'aged 77'. The Ball/ Wheeler situation remains a puzzle but while I haven't got immediate access to Ancestry to check back on it there is a Henry Ball, son of William (I think) and Ruth, with a City (St Botolph?) baptism in 1754 though not a David (the other son) that I could see with the same father. There is a related 'family tree' there but its doesn't seem too reliable though someone seems to have looked at the Lambourne inscriptionsand/or also found the refs in Neale. That said, the names are common ones and coincidences occur.
Sorry, Pieter...I’m not sure I've clarified his age at all. It is perfectly true that 'aet.77' *should* mean 'anno aetatis suae 77', and that *should* mean 'in his 77th year', i.e. 76. But I have come across many instances in the late C18th/early 19th where there seems to be almost as much confusion about the meaning of 'Xth year' as there is today; and similarly 'aet[atis].[suae]' is commonly found as (apparently) meaning just 'aged'. When you add the uncertainty of people's ages in this period you are often left with a low level of confidence about what is right.
Images of the original Lambourne, Essex burial register are viewable on SEAX at a price (I bit the bullet). Unfortunately no age is given for Sir Edward (who was not buried until 3 Feb 1794), nor for Lady Hughes (buried 10 Oct 1800) or Captain Henry (16 Aug 1792). However, it *is* given for David (20 or 28 Aug 1798) - "Ball / David - Esqr, aged 38" (see attached pdf of all the family burials). So for him we have (via Ed Pope) the General Evening Post’s ‘38th year’ & the tombstone inscription apparently ‘aet.38’...but ‘aged 38’ in both Wright’s ‘Essex’ and the burial register. This, then, could imply that Sir Edward's age should be similarly read as 77...probably. So taken with Wright and the circumstantial family sort-of-evidence, one veers towards 1716 - but c.1716 (or perhaps ‘1716/17’) is really the best one can say.
That's very good of you to take so much trouble. Wright uses 'aged' for all of them (77 for Sir Edward, 69 for Ruth and 38 for both Henry and David): Neale uses 'aet.' but the numbers are the same. Both writers give the exact dates of death but not even just a year of birth, so - however one interprets 'aet.' - the ages must all be transcribed from the tomb inscriptions: there is no other way Wright or Neale could have known them. I think your previous suggestion of 1716 as d.o.b. for the Admiral is sound enough to run with rather than a 'circa' or hairsplitting 1716/17, given how early he died in 1794. As regards Henry, a man of this forename - son of William and Ruth Ball - was baptized at St Botolph, Aldgate, on 23 October 1754. Given that 'our' Henry died on 6 August 1792, the only way the St Botolph baptism boy could have been 38, rather than in his 39th year at that point, would be if he was born before 6 August. A minimum of two and a half months (6 Aug-23 Oct) between birth and baptism is quite a long gap and since there's also no trace of David with a father called William Ball, there's not enough to tie up the two Henrys except to say that 'ours', if he had achieved 38 at death, was also born in 1754.
The revised collection record for this painting is now online at
That for the later full-length of Hughes by Reynolds has also been updated
Many thanks for the help in resolving the various details.
I think this discussion could now close. I will raise a separate query on the half length version/copy of the Reynolds, now at Ipswich.
I have raised a potential new discussion on whether the half-length of Hughes at Ipswich attributed to Reynolds is a version by - or a copy after - NMM BHC2792, at the last link above, since I don't rrecall it being metioned in the Mannings catalogue raisonee, unless I somehow missed it.
Otherwise can the present discussion now be closed, if it requires a 'portraits' say-so to do that?