Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a ‘Mr Cole’ (b.1588) 

16th Century English School 

Portrait of a ‘Mr Cole’ (b.1588), 16th Century English School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
44¼ x 31 1/8 in. (111.8 cm x 79 cm)
The present work is a fine example of early seventeenth century British portraiture, and fits comfortably into a period of steady but significant advances in the portrayal of the British face. The picture’s excellent condition allows us to see the care with which the fine details of the sitter’s costume were portrayed; he is seen wearing black silk, one of the most expensive fabrics available in the early seventeenth century, and is holding a richly decorated golden glove in his right hand. This style of ruff is dateable to 1610-1620 and the costume is decorated around the waist with a gold belt and a series of fasteners.

The style of painting is typical of the early seventeenth century; it shows a competence of design, and the figure is portrayed with a level of animation which breaks away from the rigidity of the Elizabethan age. However, the overall purpose of the picture is still one of demonstrating the sitter’s wealth and status by emphasising the finer details of the costume. As a result, the picture retains a somewhat naïve composition when compared with the virtuoso postures introduced to England later in the early 1630’s by Sir Anthony Van Dyck.

The work states in the bottom left corner the identity of the sitter as a ‘Mr Cole’ and in the top right we find the inscription ‘Hat Anno Mirabile’ , suggesting his birthdate to be 1588, the year of England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada. It has not been possible to certainly identify the sitter, but he is probably a gentleman or a prosperous merchant. Recorded Coles born in 1588 include a Thomas Cole of London, who married, in 1623, Catharine Warnett.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.