Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke (1590-1676) 

John Bracken (fl.1660-1721)

Portrait of Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke (1590-1676), John Bracken
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
22 11/16 x 19 1/8 in. (57.6 x 48.5 cm.)
Lady Anne Clifford was one of the most important female aristocratic figures of the seventeenth century. Much of her life was dictated by her fierce struggle to reclaim the inheritance of her father, George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, which after his death had passed instead to his brother, Henry Clifford (despite the fact that Anne had inherited the barony of Clifford in her own right). Her first marriage, to Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, did not give her the political support necessary to pursue the Cumberland lands, but her second, to Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke (and one of Charles I’s most important courtiers), did. With Pembroke’s backing, she could fight what she called ‘the envie, malice and sinister practices’ of her enemies and recalcitrant relations. Fortunately, Anne’s uncle’s heir, Henry Clifford, had no children, and with the support of Charles I she engineered the transfer of the Clifford estates to herself on Henry’s death in 1643.

Anne’s newly found wealth was soon increased substantially by the death of her husband in 1650. The outbreak of the Civil War had forced Anne to remain in the Northeast of England, and she spent the rest of her life spending freely, exploring her many varied interests: John Donne said ‘she knew well how to discourse of all things, from predestination to slea-silk’. Anne thus became one of the most significant patrons of the art and architecture of her age. She built and restored numerous churches and alms-houses, as well as rebuilding the family homes of Skipton Castle and Appleby Castle. She is perhaps best known for her patronage of the arts. Having already featured in Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s enormous ‘Portrait of the Pembroke Family’ [Wilton House], Lady Anne then commissioned portraits from the likes of Sir Peter Lely [National Gallery, London] and Jan Van Belcamp, whose ‘Appleby Triptych’ [Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal] celebrates her life.

We know that Lady Anne Clifford held Bracken in high regard and he travelled extensively with her, painting portraits of her family members [Rydal Hall] and copying works by other artists. It is likely therefore that this work was reproduced on numerous occasions as gifts to her friends and family. The present portrait type appears to be based on Lady Anne’s depiction in the Appleby Triptych, showing her at the age of fifty-six. A short monograph on John Bracken from 1986 lists ten versions of the present work, varying in size and format.
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