Thursday 26 May 2016

Framing the Face: collars and ruffs – at the National Portrait Gallery

Having an hour to spare before a meeting in London this week, I popped into the National Portrait Gallery. Unfortunately they do not allow photography, however I have put links below to many of the paintings on the NPG website. Although there are several of these works on Wikimedia Commons I have not included them in this post because the NPG is extremely sensitive about its rights in reproduction of the paintings, and Wikimedia has the comment that “third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons.”

One of the first rooms on the top floor in the museum has about 15 paintings and miniatures from the period c1560-c1630, exploring the concept “Framing the face – collars and ruffs.” This little exhibition is on from 19 February to 31 December 2016. 

First there is the lovely portrait that was previously believed to have been Mary, Queen of Scots, but is now listed as an unknown woman. It dates to around 1570, apart from the ruff, it has a wonderful sleeves and forepart set, the pattern looks almost like an old fashioned punched card (you have to be of a certain, pre modern computer, age to get that). 

There is a case of small paintings, not small enough to be miniatures, which include a painting thought to be Lady Arabella Stuart, c.1595-1600, and her cousin James VI & I, c.1590 in an incredibly tall hat. With them, to continue the Scottish theme, is James’s mother Mary, Queen of Scots. This painting is now considered to be from the second half of the 16th century after tree ring dating of the wood it is painted on. It was previously believed to be an eighteenth century copy. 

There is a case of miniatures, which is covered to protect the paintings from light. Among the paintings displayed there are a couple of Nicholas Hilliard portraits including a 1578 Francis Bacon, in a very austere ruff, and by contrast Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, c.1590, in a very over the top standing collar. There is an interactive display which allows you to bring these miniatures up and examine every tiny detail.

Among the final wall of paintings is the 1631 portrait of Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon, wearing a very fine lace edged falling band and, military type note, a pink military scarf (sash) with silver embroidery and a silver lace edging.

If you are in London it is worth going and having a look.