Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Anne Crane Lady Belasyse of Worlaby (d.1662) as a Shepherdess 1650s

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Anne Crane Lady Belasyse of Worlaby (d.1662) as a Shepherdess, Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
48 1/4 x 39 inches 122.2 x 98.8 cm
Sir Francis Dashwood Bt., West Wycombe Park, Oxfordshire
Richard Charlton-Jones in The British Portrait 1660-1960 Chapter 1 Lely to Kneller 1650-1723 p81 ill p86 Colour plate 10.
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The rediscovery of an aristorcratic pastoral idiom in portraits such as this in the late 1650s marks a signicant moment not only in the history of English painting but in the history of English society itself. It is a sign that - for some at least - after the hardships of the Civil War things were getting better. The form may seem to be a development of Lely's small scale paintings of the previous decade, but the language is quite distinct.

The earlier works in the manner of Poelenburgh were exercises in an erudite continental eroticism. The present portrait by contrast looks back directly to the courtly ease evoked by Van Dyck in works such as the portrait of the Seigneur d'Aubigny as a Shepherd.

Latin and Greek pastoral poetry was part of the common property of every educated person in the seventeenth century, and the mythological world of Arcady was an idyll that the ladies and gentlemen of the Court could inhabit in the guise of shepherds and shepherdesses, permitting a degree of fantasy inaccessible to the previously austere portraiture of the Interregnum. Here Lady Belasyse rests in the shade her flock, two of which, depicted with a realism unusual in the genre, are sheltering beside her. The houette that she carries, the equivalent of a crook, reveals her occupation, whilst her sunshade is both a practical accessory of her calling and an item of fashionable dress, as attested by contemporary portraits. The overwhelming abundance of this portrait, the beautiful and fecund landscape, the fat sheep and the dazzling opulence of Lady Belasyse's costume make this a portrait of exuberant optimism that looks forward to renewed prosperity and perhaps to the Restoration. The pastoral theme was to enjoy enormous popularity with Charles II's Court, and the motifs rehearsed here are later repeated in works such as Lely''s Portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth as a Shepherdess or Huysman's Portrait of Catherine of Braganza as Saint Agnes.

This portrait was most probably painted during the sitter's first marriage, to Sir William Airmine. Upon her widowhood, the then-Lady Airmine married John Lord Belasyse in the summer of 1659. Lord Belasyse came from a family famous for its loyalty to the cause of King Charles I. Lord Belasyse himself, as the Hon. Henry Belasyse, younger son of the Viscount Fauconberg, raised six regiments for the King at his own expense, and served as one of the Roylalists'' most distinguished commanders. He fought at Edgehill, the first battle of the war in October 1642, and then at Newbury and Naseby. The King entrusted him with the Governorship of York and Newark, and appointed him successively Lieutenant Governor of the King''s forces in the counties of York and Nottinghamshire. As a reward for this exceptional service, Belasyse was in January 1644 created Lord Belasyse of Worlaby, one of the last three peerages to be created by King Charles.

At the Restoration this loyalty was rewarded by further offices, though not by any promotion in the peerage, perhaps as a result of Belasyse''s Catholicism. Belasyse was Lord Lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire for thirteen years until 1673, Governor of Hull for the same time, and from 1664 to 1666 was Governor of Tangiers, the valuable dowry of Catherine of Braganza. In addition to various military appointments he also sat as a Privy Councillor from 1686 until February 1689. His religion was an impediment in the turbulent years of the 1670s, and during the Popish Plot he was impeached on the evidence of Titus Oates. Remarkably he was held in the Tower from 1678 until the beginning of 1684 until he was released on the Duke of York''s bail of 50,000.

Lord Belasyse died in the autumn of 1689. He had married three times. The sitter in the present portrait was preceeded by Anne Boteler, who was the father of his son Sir Henry Belsayse. Neither Anne Crane, who died in August 1662, nor her successor Anne Paulet bore him children. By an intriguing chance, Sir Henry married as his second wife Susan Airmine, daughter of Sir William Airmine. She achieved some notoriety as the mistress of James Duke of York, and as a possible candidate for marriage to him when his first wife died in 1673. Charles II swiftly quashed these expectations, saying that, ''it was too much that he had played the fool once: that was not to be done twice and at such an age.'' (Burnet's History of his own time edit. 1833 vol. ii pp 15 -16).
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