Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Sir Robert Pye (c.1622-1701) wearing armour and lawn collar, his hair worn long , 1653

John Hoskins the Elder (c.1590-1664/5)

Portrait miniature of Sir Robert Pye (c.1622-1701) wearing armour and lawn collar, his hair worn long, John Hoskins the Elder
Watercolour on vellum
17th Century
Oval, 2 ¼ in (57 mm) high
By family descent
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This portrait miniature portrays Sir Robert Pye, still proudly wearing his war-time armour, painted during the relative peace of the Protectorate (1653-1659). Pye was a Parliamentarian, following in his father’s footsteps, but the two men differed greatly in their stance. Whilst Sir Robert Pye senior had advocated that peace be made with the King, his son fought on the ground against the Royalist army. Following his marriage to John Hampden’s daughter, Anne, Sir Robert Pye junior followed a more radical route, initially raising a troop of horse for the earl of Essex. By 1645 he was involved in the suppression of disorder in Buckinghamshire and then in command of troops under Cromwell to march on the city of Coventry.

Pye’s political stance was measured and moderate. He was no radical but he was greatly trusted and showed great courage, as one contemporary commented he was ‘very ready to go upon the service…very great readiness and much affection to prefer the public service to any particular interest of his own’. In 1645, he was ordered to Scotland to assist the Scots against the king but instead became part of a parliamentary army disaster when Leicester fell to the Royalist army. He was captured here but paroled and exchanged for a royalist officer. From this point he seems to have been given great responsibilities and he was entrusted with the conveyance of money and recruits to Portsmouth, and brought reinforcements from Reading to assist Fairfax in the siege of Sherborne in August 1645. He led his regiment in the siege of Bristol in September, and in May 1646 was sent by Fairfax to command the siege of his native Faringdon in Berkshire.

Pye must have been back in England in 1653 for this portrait miniature to be painted and despite his appearance as soldier, was about to represent his native Berkshire in the parliament of 1654. Later, this portrait miniature must have become an important personal memento for his wife when he was imprisoned in 1660. This arose from the presentation of a petition for the return of the 1648 ‘secluded members’ who were thought likely to favour a royal restoration. By February, however, as developments moved towards a restoration, Pye was freed.

Pye was rewarded for his contribution to the Restoration and by August 1661 he was an auditor of the exchequer under the lord treasurer Southampton. Further evidence of Charles II's favour, however, came on 22 June 1670, when, ‘of assured loyalty and faithfulness’, he was exempted from the order of 10 June which expelled all officers ‘of the late usurped power’ from London. Pye was otherwise out of public life until the revolution, when, in December 1688, he accompanied William of Orange on his way to London. Further recognition came towards the end of his life when, in 1700, he acted as deputy lieutenant for Berkshire. He and his wife, Anne, had two sons, Hampden and Edmund. Pye died in 1701 at Faringdon.

This miniature is in almost pristine condition and a rare complete survival from this turbulent period. Dated 1653, it shows Hoskins painting very much in a naturalistic, post Van-Dyckian manner, a technique perfected further by his nephew, Samuel Cooper. Stylistically, there is little between this portrait miniature and one of Cooper’s from this period, as both employed the split background of shadow contrasted with sky and landscape which Hoskins had perfected during the 1630s. This miniature also demonstrates the political neutrality of portrait miniaturists of this period. Hoskins had begun his career as the principal limner at the Stuart court, establishing the early iconography of Charles I – here we find him portraying a leading protagonist against the monarchy.
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