Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Group Portrait of a Family, traditionally identified as the Bartholomews of Burford, Oxfordshire 

 English School c.1600 

Group Portrait of a Family, traditionally identified as the Bartholomews of Burford, Oxfordshire,  English School c.1600
Oil on Panel
16th Century
19 1/3 x 21 2/3 in, 49 x 55 cm
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This unusual picture is an extremely rare example of a Tudor or Jacobean group portrait, and shows three generations of one family. Each individual portrait has a number over their heads, which appears to identify their ages at the time this picture was painted. Since the children’s ages appear to show that they were almost all born within one year of each other, an unlikely occurrence, it may instead be that the numbers reflect the sitter’s ages in the various large-scale portraits from which this group composition was perhaps derived. Dendrochronological analysis allows a dating of the oak panel on which the picture was painted from the 1580s, while the fashion of the figures suggests a later date of the early 1600s. The picture is in excellent condition, with fine under-drawing visible in all the figures.

The portrait has traditionally been identified as showing the Bartholomew family of Burford in Oxfordshire. If so, the ‘grandparents’ should be John (d.1578) and Margaret Bartholomew, next to their youngest son William Bartholomew (c.1566/7-1634) and his wife Friswede Metcalfe (c.1568/9-1647). The heraldry seen in the second and fourth quartering of the coat of arms held by the eldest boy (bottom left) resembles the arms of the Batholomews of Burford – a chevron between three lions rampant – although according to a later record of Bartholomew arms the colours should be reversed, with black lions on a white background. The sequence of the children would also appear to match the known surviving children of the Bartholomew family. The eldest child of William and Mary Bartholomew of Burford was a girl, Mary, born about 1596, and they thereafter had a number of boys, the eldest of whom was John, born in about 1599. If the picture does show the Bartholomews, then the discrepancy in the colour of the coat of arms could either be put down to artistic licence, or the fact that the Bartholomew arms was not officially recorded until later, by which time the colours may have been reversed. Certainly, the Bartholomews of Burford are not officially recorded in the herald’s visitations of Oxfordshire of 1566, 1574, or 1634. William and Mary Bartholomew’s second and third sons, William and Henry, were early settlers in Massachusetts, and died there.
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