Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Young Girl, aged Three , 1595

Follower of Hieronimo Custodis (fl.1591-1612)

Portrait of a Young Girl, aged Three, Follower of Hieronimo Custodis
Oil on Panel
16th Century
31 ¾ x 23 ¼ in. (80.6 x 59 cm.)
Private Collection, UK.
London, Tate Gallery, The Elizabethan Image, 28 Nov. 1969 – 8 Feb. 1970, no. 121a.
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Elaborate late-sixteenth century portraits of children are uncommon, and this exquisite Tudor panel portrait, which portrays a sumptuously dressed young girl in her fourth year, is an unusually expressive example.

The young girl is shown wearing a dress decorated with evergreen foliage including ivy – a symbol which would have been clearly understood during the Tudor period as a reference to fidelity, eternity, and everlasting friendship and love. Her collar and edge of dress, which are painted with great precision and care, is decorated with a motif centred on the Tudor rose – a patriotic emblem which was frequently incorporated into portraiture as a symbol of monarchical support. Amid the wealth of jewels hanging from the young girl’s neck and collar, one can see a little white dove worn on a necklace, which could be symbolic of innocence, or chastity. It is also possible, given its prominent positioning and the clarity of its depiction, that the dove is a symbolic reference to the sitter’s family. It was quite common for artists working during this period to create these visual puns – in this instance, for example, the family name may have been ‘Dove’. Likewise, the dove may perhaps derive from a stylised charge on the family’s coat of arms, although enquiries along both these lines have yet to yield any significant results.

The name of the artist is not known, however the eminent art historian Sir Roy Strong attributes this work to the same unknown hand that is acknowledged to have painted a number of portraits in Oxford and the surrounding areas c.1593-1612. All of the portraits grouped together by Strong share a number of idiosyncrasies, including a highly distinctive and consistent style of inscription, as seen in the present work, and compositional affinities with the work of Hieronomo Custodis (fl.c.1589-93). This work is a version of a full-length portrait which sold at Christie’s on 14 July 1888 (lot 137), and then again on 23 June 1972 (lot 38).
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