Dress and Textiles, London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 41 Who is the physician in this portrait attributed to Mary Beale?

Portrait of a Physician
Topic: Subject or sitter

The Collection has commented on its website: 'The pose matches that of Kneller's 1690 portrait of the shipbuilder Sir Anthony Deane holding a drawing of a ship (National Portrait Gallery https://bit.ly/3iKbeZD). An attribution to Mary Beale has been suggested independently by Allen, K. Hearn and T. Barber (verbal communications, 1997). The sitter holds an anatomical drawing and this has suggested an identification with the physician-poet Sir Richard Blackmore (d.1729), to whom he bears some resemblance (cf. John Closterman, cat. exh. National Portrait Gallery, 1981, no.13). There is also perhaps some resemblance to the physician Sir Edmund King (1629-1709).'

David Saywell, Head of Digital Assets, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Jennifer Scott, Director, Dulwich Picture Gallery, email, 18/06/21, added, in addition to the entry on the website 'You can find more information in the DPG 'Catalogue of the British Paintings' by John Ingamells (2008).'. I don't have access to that entry, but will try to obtain it and post here.

Mark Wilson,

It's almost too obvious a suggestion to make, but if this is by Mary Beale and if it is of a physician, one candidate has to be her son Bartholomew Beale (b 1656). He originally trained as a painter with his mother before taking his MB at Cambridge from 1680. An artistic background might be hinted at by the anatomical illustration in this portrait being painted rather than drawn.

As it happens Dulwich already has portraits of him by Lely posed as a young teenager as a young shepherd (https://bit.ly/2SScJtY) and with a bust of Homer (https://bit.ly/3gEFIuy). They also have a Beale of an older teenager, now thought to be of him (https://bit.ly/3wNkGPS).

The latter in particular has certain facial similarities to this portrait. The main difference is in colouring with the earlier pictures showing Bartholomew as dark blond, but hair can darken over time (his mother was blond but his father dark) and if this was painted around 1690, he would have been mid-30s, about right for this portrait.

I have not been able to access a copy of Ingamell's catalogue entry to see if this helps this discussion. By way of background information, a link to an article on the Royal College of Physicians website on Beale's friendship with neighbour Thomas Sydenham https://bit.ly/3ihevgW

Thank you Jacob, I walked round to Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this week but they did not have it at the Shop or Information Desk.

Wellcome Collection,

I do not see in John Ingamells' catalogue record any strong evidence that the man in this intriguing portrait was a physician, rather than an academician, a drawing teacher, a virtuoso collector or traveller in Europe, or a knowledge-worker of some other kind. Any of these seems possible (including a physician).

If this were a physician holding an anatomical drawing, I think the last name I would expect would be Thomas Sydenham. Sydenham wrote a long attack on the value of anatomy for his profession*, referring to "laborious anatomists", and making remarks like "All that anatomie can doe is only to shew us the gross and sensible parts of the body, or the vapid and dead juices, all which, after the most diligent search, will be no more able to direct a physician how to cure a disease then how to make a man." It is those "gross and sensible" parts that are displayed in the drawing. A portrait of Sydenham holding some attribute would be more likely to show him with a volume of one of his own publications. But it is more likely still, given his mentality, that he would prefer his portrait to show him alone and not with any prestigious artefacts.

The drawing which the man is holding appears to be a red chalk drawing of a design which survives in a very rare engraving by Philip Galle (1537-1612), which Galle produced as part of an even rarer series of anatomical engravings, entitled 'Instruction et fondements de bien pourtraire', 1589 (cannot attach the image, as I'm getting an error message "Internal Server Error", but this link may work:
https://skd-online-collection.skd.museum/Details/Index/982220 )**. Galle could have copied the design from a drawing by a more distinguished artist, and this drawing, or a version of it, could be represented in the Dulwich painting.

Alternatively, as the principal purpose of anatomical engravings, and for that matter, all the other subjects engraved by Galle and his business in Antwerp, was to provide models for artists to copy and learn from (as stated explicitly in his title and dedication to the series), the drawing could be one of these copying exercises rather than an original drawing by Philip Galle, who as far as I know was never a collectable artist as a draughtsman, but rather more as an engraver of edifying subjects, sacred and secular.

(William Schupbach)

*T. Sydenham, 'Anatomie, 1668', in Kenneth Dewhurst, Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689): his life and original writings, London 1966, pp. 85-93), https://wellcomecollection.org/works/my27hmhy

**Manfred Sellink, "'As a guide to the highest learning': an Antwerp drawing book dated 1589", Simiolus, 1992, vol. 21: 40-56

Jacinto Regalado,

The title of that Galle series of engravings indicates it was meant as an anatomical aid for artists, nothing to do with medicine.

Jacinto Regalado,

The face does not look like a Beale face to me. It is better drawn.

Jacinto Regalado,

The Galle print in question, along with others form the same set, is in the Rijksmuseum. It is an écorché, a human figure shown with the skin removed to display the musculature. The date, presumably of publication, was 1589. The print states that it was made and published by Galle, but there is no mention of a separate draughtsman as the originator of the design, and the designer could have been Galle.


Jacinto Regalado,

An écorché is a kind of technical image meant for instruction, not something made as a work of art to be enjoyed as such. Thus, as with anatomical drawings meant for medical people, it would not be made by an artist but by a specialised draughtsman. It is extremely unlikely that what our sitter holds is the original drawing from which the print was made.

Wellcome Collection,

Returning to my earlier comment about the drawing held by the man in the painting: I compared it to an engraving by Philips Galle, but it looks more like a later watercolour that reworks Galle's composition. The watercolour is in the Hunterian Collection in Glasgow, attributed to the anatomist William Cowper (c. 1666-1709). It's one of a pair, is dated to c. 1694, and had been in the collection of Dr Richard Mead prior to its acquisition by William Hunter, according to the Hunterian website (first link below). This drawing seems more likely to be in the hands of a portrait sitter of this period than an obscure Antwerp engraving from the late 16th century. The other watercolour in the pair does not seem to be available online.

The drawing is not in ArtUK, but my attention was drawn to it by an ArtUK page reviewing an exhibition in Glasgow in which it is reproduced (second link below).

I can't see an engraving of it in either of two published works by Cowper (Myotomia reformata, 1694 and 1724, and The anatomy of humane bodies, 1698), nor in James Drake's Anthropologia nova, or, A new system of anatomy (2 vols., 1707, with a second edition, 1717, also a 1728 edition), for which Cowper provided most of the plates (Oxford dictionary of national biography).

If this drawing really is by Cowper, then I suppose the most obvious identification of the sitter would be Cowper himself (born c. 1666). There is a portrait of him by Closterman in the Royal College of Surgeons (third link below), which to my eye has similarities and differences compared with the Dulwich portrait. There is a mezzotint of it by John Smith (fourth link below). I wonder whether others see any resemblance to the present portrait.

Other people associated with Cowper include the anatomist James Douglas (no likeness of him is mentioned in his ODNB entry, and the lack of a portrait is mentioned in the monograph 'James Douglas of the pouch' by K. Bryn Thomas, London 1964, p. 14), and, more distantly, the three dedicatees of his 1694 work: Edward Brown [presumably Edward Browne PRCP, son of Sir Thomas Browne] , Edward Tyson FRS, and Roger Knowles (surgeon).

I have not found any connection between Cowper and Sir Edmund King, whose resemblance to the sitter was noted by Ingamells, though both were Fellows of the Royal Society. Mezzotint portrait of him in last link below.

Hunterian website: http://collections.gla.ac.uk/#/details/enarratives/281

ArtUK page: https://artuk.org/discover/stories/flesh-arranges-itself-differently-at-the-hunterian?utm_source=Art+UK+Newsletter&utm_campaign=269ded642e-WEEKLY_NEWSLETTER_2022_01_25&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d3a24f9a65-269ded642e-12729129&mc_cid=269ded642e&mc_eid=14775798d4

Closterman portrait of Cowper: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/william-cowper-16661709-145906/view_as/grid/search/keyword:closterman-cowper/page/1

Mezzotint of Cowper by John Smith: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/s5heeark

Mezzotint of Sir Edmund King: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/vgmwgq87

Wellcome Collection,

Amendment to the above: the other watercolour in the pair is reproduced in the ArtUK page about the Glasgow exhibition.

[William Schupbach]

Jacinto Regalado,

Edmund King is possible but hardly certain. I doubt it is Cowper. It could be an anatomist such as James Douglas, and I think the most likely sitter to be holding an anatomical drawing is an anatomist.

Given William's comments made a year ago, would getting a view on late 17th and early 18th Century anatomy from the Royal College of Surgeons not be a potential useful line of enquiry here?

Kieran Owens,

The bequest of this portrait was made by the artist and suffragette Helen Margaret Spanton (1877-1934) who was the daughter of the artist and photographer William Silas Spanton (1845-1930), who in turn was the son of the Bury-St. Edmunds-based photographer William Spanton (1823-1870):



Both artists are represented in the Art UK database.

In the 1911 UK Census, father and daughter are each described as being an "artist portrait painter & copyist in oil". Could the painting be a copy by one of them or are there specific details that can place it to the 17th century?

(Interestingly, on the census return is written in bold ink "Four members of this family demanded Votes For Women".)

Kieran Owens,

The painting might be mentioned in the uncatalogued collection of letters at Dulwich between Charles Fairfax Murray and William Silas Spanton, the former apparently having given the painting to the latter (the realisation of which act pretty well rubbishes my suggestion above!).

Jacinto Regalado,

Can Dulwich say where the Beale attribution came from? Was it from the donor? Did the donor attribute or ascribe the work to someone else or at least give a date for the picture? One would think that a known copy would not have been donated to such a collection.

Jacinto Regalado,

I should have noted that the Beale attribution came much later than the donation, but it is still of interest what the donor claimed for the picture in terms of authorship and/or date.

Marcie Doran,

I have attached extracts from the will of William Silas Spanton (d. 27 Dec. 1930) and that of his daughter Helen Margaret Spanton (d. 17 Sept. 1934). I had ordered them in September 2022.

Both wills show that they wished to make bequests of paintings to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, including a portrait by Kneller that would have been the work that is being discussed here.

Notice that Margaret was very clear when making other bequests that some works were by her hand and others by her father's hand.

I realize that William Spanton (d. 20 Jan. 1870) did not own this work but I checked his will anyway. He did not mention specific works of art in his will although he left his wife her choice of up to ten of his "pictures or drawings"!

Jacinto Regalado,

This picture is probably more in the vein of Riley or Closterman (who spent some years working under Riley) than Kneller.

Jacinto Regalado,

I should have also noted from the Ingamells entry (linked above) that the picture was purchased and presented as a portrait by Kneller.

Louis Musgrove,

It is also practically the same dimensions as Sir Anthony Deane in the NPG. Plus some much similarity???

Jacinto Regalado,

As noted in the Ingamells entry, an attribution within the Riley-Closterman orbit has previously been suggested, and one of its proponents rejected the Beale attribution.

Jacinto Regalado,

Part of the problem, I think, is that some attributions to Beale are clearly (and similarly) questionable, like https://bit.ly/3VPNGSO , which I do not believe is by her. There is such a thing as a Beale face, in my opinion, though she could copy or imitate the work of others (notably Lely) well enough.

Kieran Owens,

Attached is a compilation of the works that Helen Margaret Spanton bequeathed to the collection with the attributions used as were contained in her will and previously in her father's will (thanks Marcie for those finds!).

The pose of this discussion's work is very similar to Kneller's portrait of Sir Theodore Colladon, M.D.:


That Colladon was also a medical professional might suggest a link to the sitter in this portrait as he appears to have been treated in the same manner as Kneller has handled Colladon.

Perhaps the sitter is connected to Sir Theodore Colladon.

2 attachments
Kieran Owens,

My apologies, I don't know what happened to that first attachment. Here it is again, corrected.

1 attachment
Jacinto Regalado,

It is not our concern here, but that female portrait is too early for Highmore and surely not by him.

Jacinto Regalado,

As to the pose, I think it is too generic to tie our picture to either Kneller or Colladon to any significant degree.

Louis Musgrove,

Looking at Sir Godfrey Kneller's paintings in the NPG alone-there are one thousand six hundred and eighty six paintings/portraits."Some" of them looking a bit "similar" !---This means it was surely a production line process- with studio workers preparing canvasses and drapery artists blocking in "bodies".Some of them seem to be the same dimensions as the painting here. Perhaps just "studio of Kneller " would be a good description for our painting. Possibly??

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, the portrait might indeed surely not be by him but the point is that Dulwich accepted a bequest from Ms. Spanton who either innocently, ignorantly or purposefully claimed that the portraits were painted by the attributed artists as set out in both her and her father's wills. Should the title not be "Attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller"? It seems more likely to be by or after him than by Mary Beale.

Jacinto Regalado,

The attribution, naturally, is up to the collection. The pose was certainly used by Kneller but no doubt by others also, and the most important element, the face, does not look as much like Kneller (to me) as by what could be called circle of Riley. Of course, a note could be added to the Art UK entry to the effect that this was formerly attributed to Kneller. I agree that Beale seems unlikely.

Jacinto Regalado,

The man's hair appears to be his own rather than a wig. I wonder if a fashion expert like Lou Taylor could use that for better dating this picture.

Jacob Simon,

To my eye the portrait has very little to do with Kneller and rather more to link it to Beale or, less likely, Riley. Tricky to date but I'd make a stab at the 1670s or a little later. The pose is pretty standard. It is going to be difficult to take this discussion further.

S. Elin Jones,

Would it possible to ask the collection for a photograph of the back of this portrait please? Thanks very much.

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