Completed East of England and The Midlands: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 51 This portrait has been astronomically dated, can you help us resolve other mysteries about it?

Topic: Execution date

Arthur Beer in ‘Astronomical Dating of Works of Art’, Vistas in Astronomy, Vol. 9, 1967 outlined that an astronomical conclusible date was Tuesday 12 December 1581.

Christophe De Reyff, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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The Collection has commented: ‘Another professional astrologer, Jean Elliott D.F.A, R.C.A also put forward this date. Because of the nature of the painting it is thought that this date is Sir Christopher Hatton's birthday, probably his 41st birthday. It is not known whether the painting was executed to celebrate this birthday. If so it was an early painting by the studio of William Segar if that is where it was painted. There are several mysteries surrounding this portrait of Hatton. One that we have been thinking about recently is where this painting would have originally resided, which one of Hatton’s properties and in which room? Because of its unusual double-sided form there is likely to have been a specific place for its display.’

Jacob Simon,

This picture was shown at the National Portrait Gallery relatively recently together with an explanation which might form a starting point for this discussion if it could be retrieved.

Osmund Bullock,

With an overwhelmingly detail-rich painting like this it's hard to see how anything useful can be deduced when you have such a small image to work with - even on the main Art UK one (virtually the same size as this) most of the inscriptions, figures, arms, etc are hard-to-impossible to make out. The painting on the reverse (rather oddly listed separately here fares a bit better as most of the details are bigger - on the other hand it has no accompanying notes about current thinking on what it shows.

Let's hope the NPG description at least can be accessed.

Osmund Bullock,

Indeed it does, Jacob, thank you; and very interesting it is, too (albeit plagued with dodgy punctuation and typos, e.g. 'bold' for 'bald'). For various reasons the author mainly addresses the iconography and meaning of the *rear* image and inscription - the front is deemed too hard to unravel at this stage, not least because some detail has been lost with damage or wear, and certain parts seem unfinished - it is suggested that further technical investigation may reveal more. Nevertheless she does describe the front and its inscriptions in fairly full and helpful detail, but what she writes about the back is much fuller and pretty impressive. Its complexity, however, demands time and much thought to understand fully (let alone contribute anything useful), and I can't manage that just now or my overdue posts elsewhere will never get done.

One thing it does seem to answer, though, at least in part, is the question of where and how the painting was displayed. If I understand the translation rightly, the cryptic rear inscription says that the painting was "placed ... in this entrance hall as a lesson". I would guess it hung freely from the ceiling or the top of an arch, so that both sides could be seen. Whether it was aligned in such a way that access to both was equal, or was designed to be read in a specific order, is more challenging. The "back", for example, may actually have faced people as they first entered the house, providing a cryptic, allegorical introduction and instruction to gear themselves up for some deep thinking on Sir Christopher and his rapid advancement, this being shown in more detail - again cryptic - on the other side. Or it may have been the other way round: the first seen "front" announcing and celebrating Sir Christopher and his achievements, with the "back" providing an instruction to those leaving that they should think on what they have seen, and move quickly to follow his example.

Jacob Simon,

The discussion question, "This portrait has been astronomically dated, can you help us resolve other mysteries about it?", is probably best answered, as far as it can be answered, by reference to the publication linked in my post of 06/03/2021. And that we leave it at that in this particular complex case?

Christophe De Reyff,

Elisa von Minnigerode in the note 24 of her paper, published in "Athens Journal of Humanities & Arts" - Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2021, unfortunately did not mention the exact represented astronomical date given by Arthur Beer in his important article published in "Vistas in Astronomy", vol. 9, 1967 (and not 1968), i. e, 12 December 1581, even at noon !

Marcie Doran,

Is it possible to have a higher resolution image posted? Maybe a few of the mysteries could then be solved.

Jacob, I have sought Helen Pierce's view on closing this now.
Bendor - what are your thoughts as to Jacob's suggestion? Regards, David

Helen Pierce has commented: 'I think that we've reached as far as we can with this discussion, particularly if we don't have access to any higher resolution images of both sides of the painting. There's a better/sharper reproduction of the side with Hatton's portrait on p.18 of Tarnya Cooper's 2012 book Citizen Portrait, and she states on p.32:

"This remarkable painting shows the sitter surrounded within a circular painted 'frame' including his own astrological chart. The picture may have been sited in a vestibule (as mentioned in an inscription on the verso) as it has a double-sided painted surface, and is perhaps a rare survival of a panel from a painted interior. The brightly patterned coloured surface, with different sections of the picture - including a heraldic crest, inscriptions, and small figures depicting a painter and an astrologer - operating independently of each other, does not aim for a mimetic effect. Instead, the picture can be read heraldically as a playful puzzle to be carefully deciphered."

Cooper includes a reference to her own PhD thesis in this excerpt - if you could get hold of her for a comment, that could provide a nice conclusion to the current discussion. [We will try follow through on this suggestion to contact Tarnya Cooper for a comment]

Jacob Simon,

David Saywell refers to Tarnya Cooper's thesis (15/03/2022). This should be available in the NPG Heinz archive on the open shelves (C66.2001 at Art History British Portraiture). I'll try and look at this tomorrow.

Martin asks if the artist at bottom left is a self portrait (preceding post). In a sense this is answered in Tarnya's summary on the picture appearing in David's post (15/03/2022): "The brightly patterned coloured surface, with different sections of the picture - including a heraldic crest, inscriptions, and small figures depicting a painter and an astrologer - operating independently of each other, does not aim for a mimetic effect"

Martin Hopkinson,

This painting is unlikely to be by Segar from what can be seen online, but there is a curious 1880s chromolithograph of John Colet from the collection of the art historiam C J Foulkes said to be after Segar [National Portrait Gallery] which needs to be considered.

Martin Hopkinson,

Hatton was a correspondent of Francis Tresham . His Northamptonshire house at Holdenby cannot be far from Tresham's extraordinary buildings at Rothwell, Lyveden and Rushton. The imagery [ I am not a historian in this field] brings the circle of Tresham to mind.
It would not surprise to find that the artist was a Flemish miniaturist working in Britain
Hatton was also conected to the mathematician , astrologer and magician John Dee. No doubt Cooper explains all this - and Dee's connection with the imagery of Tresham's Lyveden New Bield, a building which I have admired since the mid 1950s

Jacob Simon,

I attach the John Colet print referred to in the previous post. Compared to our portrait it has quite a different surround of uncertain date. We know that Segar did an illumination of Colet for the statute book of St Paul's School for which he was paid in 1585/6 (see R. Strong, The English Icon, p.18). But I can't see that this helps with the current discussion. The links are too tenuous.

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Marcie Doran,

The artist at the lower left side seems to have mounted a mirror above the easel. He is likely working on a self-portrait, as suggested by Martin (20/03/2023 10:11).

In the lower right side, the “astrolabe” looks more like an "armillary sphere".

See, for example, this work in Oxford at the Museum of the History of Science.

Here is a spherical compass on the British Museum website that is after a work from 1545–1555.

Marcie Doran,

Perhaps the lower middle panel was reserved for the names of his children. "Spes mea" is supposedly Latin for "my hope". There seems to be a faintly drawn woman at the right side of that box with a child sitting at her feet. I hope I'm not the only person who sees them!

Marcie Doran,

I wish I knew the source of the first painting on this blog. Notice that the second male dancer is quite similar to the dancer on the back of the Art UK work.

The work at this link, NPG 710, also reminds me of the work that is being discussed, although it is later. While the artist would be different, the depiction of scenes in one man’s life is similar.

Osmund Bullock,

Your dancer comparison is interesting, Marcie. The detail in fact comes from a painting at Hatfield House, 'A Fête in Bermondsey', now dated to c. 1571: This was formerly thought to be by the Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel, who was in England c.1568-9; but a 2015 article in the Burlington Magazine offered a new attribution to Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder:

Marcie Doran,

I don’t know how you managed to find that painting, Osmund. I looked for it for ages. Thank you.

Martin Hopkinson,

well done Osmund ! look too at the corners of three portraits attributed to him and his circle on artuk - Lord Hunsdon [Sheffield], an unknown man [Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds] and Sir William Craven [Guildhall Gallery]. Gheeraerts seems a better bet than Segar.
Look too at his etchings of 1567, 4 of which are in the Hunterian Art Gallery - 3 online, He or someone in his studio hand coloured some of them. Christopher Mendez had a large group of handcoloured etchings by him three of which the Hunterian bought in the 1990s
see also the works associated with him in the British Museum - and his illustrations for De Warachtige Fabulen der Tieren , He designed 108 of these book illustrations
See E Hodnet, Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder of Bruges, 1971

Martin Hopkinson,

Its previous owner was a notable armorial art historian Major Sir Algernon Tudor Craig KBE FSA 1873-1943 whose daughter in law was Dr Pamela Tudor Craig
His own bookplate was impressively heraldic
Mediaeval art historians such as Jonathan Alexander, Nigel Morgan , Sandy Heslop and Paul Binski will know much more, as will the V & A
He wrote on porcelain
His bookplate collection was sold at Sotheby as part of a sale on 5-7 November 1951

Marcie Doran,

There doesn't seem to be any discussion in Elisa von Minnigerode's article of the separations between the three portions of the painting on the reverse. Note the "figure of Father Time" (in the heavens) in the top section is separated from the middle section by stars and a tiny moon in a circle (to represent the sky). The middle section is separated from the bottom section by a floor and waves (to represent the ground).

I think that the woman with the distaff might be pregnant, hence the (still-covered) swollen belly that is exposed when part of her gown is lifted. My composite is based on an image on a Wordpress website.

Jacob Simon,

I had a look at Tarnya's thesis at the NPG library this morning. There is a dense but illuminating five page entry on our portrait. Copyright does not allow me to post the entry. I will however attempt to summarise the most pertinent elements from the point of view of the current discussion when I have time.

Martin Hopkinson,

we look forward very much to this
I presume that Hollstein has not yet covered Gheeraerts

Christophe De Reyff,

One can explicitly read : LACHESIS TRAHIT , Lachesis pulls, or allots(?). Hence the woman with the distaff is Lachesis, one of the Three Fates, the Moirai, in Greek, the Parcae in Latin !

Jacob Simon,


This complex and much studied picture is, of all the Art Detective subjects, the sort that could run forever and a day. I've reviewed Tarnya's thesis discussion, as mentioned above, and also C W R D Moseley, ‘A Portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton, Erasmus and an Emblem of Alciato: some Questions’, The Antiquaries Journal, 86, 2006, pp 373–9.

I am going to revert to a variation of my earlier post (9/03/2022) and suggest that the discussion question is best answered, as far as it can be answered, by reference to the publication linked in my post of 06/03/2021 and to the other literature on the subject.

And that we leave it at that in this particular complex case, which, I will horrify you, is in my view unsuitable for Art Detective. I think that the posts risk going all over the place and will never get to the heart of the matter, whatever that is. And with that I bow out of this discussion.

Christophe De Reyff,

You can find in attachment the excerpt of the paper "Astronomical Dating of Works of Art" by Arthur Beer, in : Vistas in Astronomy, vol. 9, (1967), pp. 211-218, specifically analysing this portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton, a document I already mentioned in the beginning of this discussion, two years ago, on 5 March 2021, and also referred in the note 24 of the paper by Elisa von Minnigerode (2021) .

Jacinto Regalado,

I agree with Jacob that this is too arcane and specialised for AD, and thus better left to suitable academic enquiry.

Osmund Bullock,

Jacob, you may be right about this not being the right place for such a complex discussion, much of which would inevitably range, and in depth, very far from the more straightforward questions we usually address here. And as most of us - well, me anyway - have little or no expertise in any of those highly-specialised subjects, it's not clear how productive that would be.

Nevertheless, I cannot resist commenting on one matter that's already been raised by Christopher De Reyff. It may well be that Tarnya Cooper addresses this in her thesis (though Elisa von Minnigerode does not, I think, mention it at all in her essay), but I find Christopher 's identification of the woman on the back as Lachesis wholly convincing, though here perhaps conflated with her sister Clotho. Along with the third Moira (or Fate) Atropos, their joint role was to determine the destiny and lifespan of all men, which is of central relevance to the meaning of our artwork, front and back.

Osmund Bullock,

It's also worth drawing attention to 'November', the penultimate eclogue in Edmund Spenser's 'The Shepheardes Calender, first published in 1579 ( The accompanying commentary on this (usually attributed to Spenser himself as a sort of critical alter ego) contains the following explanatory note on the phrase 'the fatall sisters':

"Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, daughters of Herebus and the Nighte, whom the poetes fayne to spinne the life of man, as it were a long threde, which they drawe out in length, till his fatal howre and timely death be come; but if by other casualtie his dayes be abridged, then one of them, that is, Atropos, is sayde to have cut the threde in twain. Hereof commeth a common verse,
‘Clotho colum bajulat, Lachesis trahit, Atropos occat.’ " **

[**Free translation: 'Clotho holds the distaff, Lachesis draws it out, Atropos cuts it off]

The same 'common verse' also appears at the same time in George Peele's pastoral comedy 'The Arraignment of Paris', presented before Queen Elizabeth c. 1581, in which it was used as part of a song sung by the Fates:

Martin Hopkinson,

Jacob, I am sure that you are right about the complexity of this work being beyond the possibility of solution on the artuk format. However, I do think that the question of the artist [not part of the original question] is soluble see above - and if this was addressed separately one might make some progress
Being too ill to reach London and libraries, unfortunately cannot pursue this further

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry to misspell your first name, Christophe. It's alarming how often the human brain sees what it *expects* to see, not what is actually there - an evolutionary short-cut with much broader implications for art historians.

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Christophe; you anticipated my question as to what early evidence there is of Eberhard's authorship, and whether or not it was found with exactly the same wording. So the epigram must have been well-known in Germany by the mid-15th Century; and though I can't see (at least online) any English citations before the gloss to Spenser's 'Shepheardes Calender' in 1579, it is described there as being already common then.

But will any of this be news to those who've been researching the painting in depth for years? I rather doubt it. Though I haven't read her thesis, a couple of references I found suggest Tarnya Cooper must have identified the 'Lachesis trahit' quotation; and she will certainly have understood its meanin,g and at the very least discovered the link with Spenser.

So despite a degree of interest on my part, I now definitely agree with Jacob that these esoteric literary questions are better left to those with specialist knowledge; and Art Detective is not, I think, a place where enough such experts are likely to be found to make for a fruitful exchange. Christophe is clearly an exception: my apologies to him for accepting his pass of the ball and running with it for a while...and then abruptly kicking it into touch!

Christophe De Reyff,

Jacob, on 21/03/2023 at 14:52, you promised us that "I will however attempt to summarise the most pertinent elements [ of Tarnya's thesis which is not available online ] from the point of view of the current discussion when I have time."
We are waiting with impatience for this summary, of course, when you'll have time.

Jacob Simon,

As I said later the same day having reviewed the discussion, "I think that the posts risk going all over the place and will never get to the heart of the matter, whatever that is. And with that I bow out of this discussion."

Christophe De Reyff,

Marcie, a plumed beret was very ordinary at the time !
Something perhaps more relevant. The painter at bottom left says: "Aeternitati pingo", I paint for eternity, and the astronomer at bottom right says: "Aeternitate finitum", destined from eternity. Quotation according to Arthur Beer.

Marcie Doran,

Yes, I do realize that, Christophe. I meant that the ribbing on both berets is similar. It might be something to look for when searching for the artist.

Note that the hind on the verso of the cameo has the same shape as the hind on this painting but not, for example, the portrait of Hatton at the link.

Christophe De Reyff,

Thank you for your interesting article of August 2019 !
You confirm the date already given in 1967 by Arthur Beer in his seminal article published in "Vistas in Astronomy", vol. 9, 1967, i. e. the 12 December 1581 (old style), but, according to him, at noon !

I disagree with you on two points :

1° This year, the winter solstice was one day before, i.e. on 11 December (o.s.), exactly at 20:05:20 (UTC), the Sun being exactly at the position 0° 0’ 0’’ Cap., and not the 12th December. The fall equinox was on 13 September, the summer solstice on 11 June and the spring equinox on 10 March at 18:00:51 (UTC). The gap between the dates fixed by the Council of Nicaea in 325 was 10 days, due to the approximation of the Julian calendar (too long by 11 minutes and 16 seconds). These discrepancies were the reason of the Gregorian reform of the calendar, during the next year, with 10 days omitted between the 4th and the 15th of Octobre 1582, and with the future suppression of the leap years for the centenarian years not divisible by 400.

2° Concerning the exact hour and minutes of this 12 December 1581 that you propose at 2:45 a.m., I am not convinced. Because it seems that the given positions of the Sun and the planets are not correct, or are inconsistent all together. The Sun was at the position 0° 16' Cap. at 02:22:09 (UTC), i.e. 6 hours and 17 minutes after the winter solstice. At noon it already was at the position 0° 40.5'. But the position of Jupiter at 24° 54’ Cap. was attained later, only on 21 December at 16:08 (UTC). On the other hand, Saturn already was at the position 24° Aqu. on 3 December at 20:40 (UTC). Only Mars was correctly posted at 17° 35’ Sag. on 12 December at 03:03 (UTC). But, in my opinion, only the position of the Moon could have been decisive for the precise determination of the time represented, since its proper movement is very quick, i.e. 0.5° or 30’ in one hour. At 2:45 (UTC) its position was 22° 37’ Can. and 22° 46’ Can. at 3:03 (UTC), i.e. +9’ later in 18 minutes.

Chris Egerton 01,

Thank you Christophe for your valued observations and comments. We are both correct. You are correct about the mathematically precise Winter Solstice timing point in 1581. It occurred during darkness at 20.05.20h, 11th December 1581 Julian. You also correctly observe that there are inconsistences in the planetary positions as given on the heavily restored painting. Early ephemerides, from which the data was taken and interpolated, were less accurate than today with +/- 1 or 2 degrees error quite common for planetary positions in published printed tables.

I used the modern computer calculated Sun position of 0deg 9min, 57sec in Capricorn for 00.00 UT, 12 Dec. Julian and interpolated forward to obtain 0deg 16min 0 sec and get the time I proposed: approx. 2.45am, 12 Dec 1581 Julian. That time is later than the precise solstice time point I agree, but it is the nearest time that corresponds to the flawed data we have, in my opinion.

The Sun figure is clearly standing in the Capricorn sign, suggesting his transition slightly beyond the mathematical solstice point into the new season. By common cultural and ancient astrological tradition a new day begins and is defined at sunrise, typically used to determine and time religious observances, fasting, sacrifice, astrological significance etc. The sunrise delineates the start of an astrological planetary day, which is not the same as a conventional day of midnight to midnight. The Sun rose at around 8am on 12 Dec 1581 Julian. The first daylight on the Solstice day and the start of the planetary day that could be, by convention, subdivided into planetary hours to determine auspicious times for various activities. I applied this ancient principle to define 'Winter Solstice' as it would have been appreciated by Elizabethans. So, we are both correct.
I avoided detailed discussion of astrology theory and practice in my article, its a too complicated subject. I was more interested in the imagery and correcting Beer's errors and false asumptions, as well as proposing why the painting was created and when, where and why it was displayed.

BTW I have a new paper forthcoming about the reverse of this painting and I feel it may be of interest to your good self and to others who enjoy Renaissance artworks. Abstract attached.

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Christophe De Reyff,

Thank you for your supplementary explanations !

In my opinion, a new day could also begin at sunset, at least in the liturgical calendar, exactly at the time of lighting the candles for the Vespers service... i.e. 15 to 20 minutes after sunset.

For astrology the new day also could begin at noon and the hours are only given as p.m., i.e. "hours completed" past meridian ("die completa" and "hora completa", or "perfecta"), as are the days ; for example : the sentence "12a die martii perfecta 13 h. 51 m." is to be read as : on March 13 at 1:51 a.m. Hence many mistakes have been done.

According to you, which precisely are the "Beer's errors and false assumptions" ?