Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait miniature of a Gentleman wearing gold studded armour 

Samuel Cooper (1609-72)

A portrait miniature of a Gentleman wearing gold studded armour, Samuel Cooper
Watercolour on vellum
17th Century
Oval, 1 2/16 inches (27mm) high
Mrs Marjorie Rees; Sotheby's, London, 11 November 1954, lot 18; Christies, 25 May 2004, lot.61
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Samuel Cooper is regarded as one of greatest portrait miniature painters of the seventeenth century. He was the nephew of the John Hoskins (d.1664/5) a masterful miniaturist, who taught Samuel and his brother Alexander Cooper (c.1605-1660) to paint. In 1642 Cooper settled in Covent Garden and experienced immediate success, evident from his commission from Elizabeth Cecil, Countess of Devonshire (1620-1689) [Coll. Marquess of Exeter] painted the same year he began his independent practice. It is evident that Cooper was already moving in fashionable circles prior to his relocation to Covent Garden, we know for example that he was familiar with Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) not just on a business level but perhaps also on a personal level, painting Van Dyck’s lover Margaret Lemon c.1635 [The Fondation Custodia, Paris].

The Civil War provided a market for portable images of loved ones, the dashing portraits by Van Dyck mirrored ‘in little’ for the family and friends of loved ones called away for battle. Unusual in Cooper’s oeuvre, the particularly small size of this portrait suggests that it was intended as a wearable commission. Difficult to date, the sitter wears the identical simple lawn collar and armour to that of Charles I shown in Van Dyck’s portraits of the king in the late 1630s through to Robert Walker’s portraits of Oliver Cromwell painted during the early 1650s. The interregnum was perhaps the most significant period of Cooper’s career, being bestowed patronage by Oliver Cromwell and his family as well as other leading lights of the Commonwealth period, his most accomplished work from this period being the unfinished sketch of Cromwell [Duke of Buccleuch]. Based on the sitter’s hairstyle, this work probably dates to the early 1650s. Frustratingly, it has not been possible to identify the sitter, although his extreme youth would suggest that he was the son of an important family. When Charles II was restored to the throne Cooper was appointed King’s Limner and by the end of the 1660’s the cost of a commission by Cooper was double that of fellow artist Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680).
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