Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Stephen Phesant (1617-1660) and Mary Phesant (b.1616) 1623

 English School 17th Century 

Portrait of Stephen Phesant (1617-1660) and Mary Phesant (b.1616),  English School 17th Century
Oil on Panel
17th Century
44 x 41 ¼ inches, 111.8 x 104.8 cm
Upwood House, Huntingdonshire; The Collection of Lt. Col Arthur Moubray J.P; by descent.
To view paintings for sale, please visit the Tudor and Stuart page at www.philipmould.com.

This charming and unusual portrait was painted in England in 1622, and shows Stephen Phesant with his elder sister, Mary. The picture is given an endearing characterisation by the linked hands at the centre of the composition. Despite being a portrait of two siblings, the picture is nonetheless a relatively early instance of affection and tender feeling in seventeenth century English portraiture, and breaks away from the conventional restraints which, at least in adult portraiture, forced artists to concentrate on presenting a sitter’s prestige and wealth. While the two sitters here are evidently presented in expensive costumes, the addition of the casually held spinning top in Stephen’s right hand ensures that the picture is viewed with an appropriate informality.

Until recently, the identity of the sitters in this portrait had been lost. However, the provenance of the picture was known, and the finely observed inscription of the sitter’s dates of birth has allowed an identification to be made. In the early twentieth century the portrait was in the collection of Arthur Moubray at Upwood Manor in Huntingdonshire. Moubray had inherited the manor house and its contents from ancestors by the name of Hussey, whose family had been in possession of the manor since 1649, when it was bought from the Cromwell family by Peter Phesant, or Pheasant, (1584-1649) in the 1640s. The records of the Lincolnshire Pedigrees (as published in 1904 by the Canon Maddison for the Harleian Society) show that Peter’s eldest son, Stephen Phesant, was born on 22nd May 1617, the date recorded above the boy’s head in the present portrait. Stephen’s elder sister, Mary, was baptised on 19th January 1615, a date consistent with a birthday of 7th January, as inscribed above the girl’s head in the portrait. Further confirmation of the identity comes in the form of a related portrait, evidently by the same artist, of Stephen and Mary’s mother, Mary Phesant (née Bridges), who is shown in a three-quarter length portrait with her eldest daughter, Margaret, in a picture painted in about 1617.

The inscription in the centre of the picture relates that the present portrait was painted to celebrate Mary’s birthday. The Phesant family were then living in Old Jewry in London, and it may be that the inscription ‘Stilo Anglia’, denoting that the picture was painted on 7th January 1622 ‘English Style’ was added by the artist to ensure that foreign viewers of the portrait were left in no doubt that the portrait was painted to celebrate the girl’s birthday. England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until the eighteenth century, and consequently the new year did not fall until 5th April; in modern (and European) date usage, therefore, Mary Phesant was born in 1616, and the present portrait was painted in 1623.

Stephen Phesant (1617-1660) was, like his father, a prominent barrister. He entered Gray’s Inn in 1624, and became a recorder, or judge, in London in 1643. He succeeded to his father’s position as a Justice of the Common Pleas in 1649, after whose death he was able to extend the family’s holdings around Upwood considerably. Stephen had two children by his wife, Sarah, and was buried at Upwood. Little is known of Mary Phesant, although judging from the £50 annuity she received from her father’s will she must have lived a relatively prosperous life.

Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.