Historical Portraits Picture Archive

John Tradescent the Younger (1608-62) 

Attributed Thomas de Critz 

John Tradescent the Younger (1608-62), Attributed Thomas de Critz
oil on silver
17th Century
2 3/8" x 1 7/8" (5.9cm x 4.6cm)
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This contemporary oil miniature of the Royal gardener John Tradescant is based on the full scale oil in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Painted circa 1648, shortly after he lost his position as Keeper of the King’s Gardens at Oatlands Palace, the full oil shows him leaning on his spade, a park in the background.

This oil miniature was probably made as a personal and portable version of the painting, with subtle changes to the large oil version. The blue background of the miniature is a nod to the tradition of painting portrait miniatures on vellum at this time by artists such as John Hoskins (1590-1664/5) and Samuel Cooper (1609-1672). The artist, probably the same Thomas de Critz who is credited with painting the Ashmolean portrait, would have been aware of the pictorial conventions of portrait miniatures. At this time, portrait miniatures as well as oil portraits were flourishing as an art form in post Van-Dyckian England. Artists such as Samuel Cooper had elevated the miniature as an art form to such an extent that he had an international reputation and was able to charge more than his contemporaries working in oil. Many successful oil painters produced exquisite small oil on metal versions of their larger portraits, Thomas de Critz’s contemporary Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661) among them.

John Tradescant the Younger was an eminent gardener and collector, an expertise no doubt encouraged by his father John Tradescant the Elder, a gardener and horticultural advisor to the nobility of his day.

The repute of Tradescant the Younger can be gleaned in as early as 1637 when he was instigated, it is believed, by Charles I to travel to Virginia and bring back rare plant specimens ‘a couple of hundred plants hitherto unknown to our world’, according to John Morris, master of the King''s watermills. Following his successful sojourn to Virginia, a journey repeated three times in his career, Tradescant was installed as the gardener at the royal palace of Oatlands, a position formally held by his father and which he maintained until its demolition in 1650.

Although contemporary responses to Tradescant’s talents are scarce, John Morris regarded him as; “most experienced in gardening matters” (1) and goes so far as to associate as a group of Tradescant, Thomas Johnson and John Parkinson as “those three great men of our native botanists.” (2).

Throughout his career Tradescant provided financial support for his family through both his income as a gardener as well as from the proceeds from a museum established by his father at Lambeth called ‘The Ark’. The museum was the first in England to open to the public and contained curious specimens of everything from plants and animals to reliquaries. In 1638, following the death of his first wife three years earlier, Tradescant married Hester Pooks, and it was through this connection that Tradescant came into contact with Emanuel and Thomas de Critz and Cornelis de Neve, all of whom were relatives of Hester. Portraits of three generations of the Tradescant family attributed to these artists can be seen at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, along with his father’s large collection of curiosities, left by Tradescant the younger following his death in 1662.

This small oil portrait would appear to be the only surviving miniature of Tradescant the Younger, making it the most intimate portrait painted of him. It is the type of object which would have typically been included in a 17th century cabinet of curiosities – the basis for his eventual museum. Portrait miniatures were often included in such collections as precious ‘artificial’ (i.e. man made) possessions, which would sit alongside natural and rare treasures – which combined intended to inspire contemplation of the world’s wonders.
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