Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Elizabeth Campbell, Marchesa di Spineto, c.1812 

Sir Henry Raeburn PRSA (1756-1823)

Portrait of Elizabeth Campbell, Marchesa di Spineto, c.1812, Sir Henry Raeburn PRSA
Oil on canvas
19th Century
30 x 25 in (76 x 63.5 cm)
By family descent to the present
We are grateful to Duncan Thomson for dating the Portrait of Elizabeth Campbell to c.1812.

The combination of ‘sensibility and sexuality’1 that Duncan Thomson detects in Raeburn’s Mrs Robert Scott Moncrieff (National Gallery of Scotland) can be imputed just as much to the present portrait, which was painted, Thomson suggests, at around the same date. The fact that the sitter’s physicality as a woman is as much the subject of the portrait as her intellectual presence produces an image of considerable power, and one that is to be engaged by all the senses. The feeling of sensuality barely restrained by decorum is worthy of the very best work of the romantic painters on the Continent at this date, and this, along with an indefinable international ‘polish’ to the execution might suggest that Raeburn was aware by this date of the work of Ingres. Raeburn had not traveled further afield than London since his return from Italy in the previous century, but a French accent is detectable in even his more restrained work of this date – for example in the portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe (Duke of Roxburghe Collection) - and he could well have become aware of the French painter’s manner by any one of a hundred channels. Equally, the maturing of Raeburn’s romantic vision could have occurred independently, as at is in step with the changing spirit of the age, with which the artist of genius instinctively keeps pace and evolves even unnnoticed by himself.

Elizabeth Campbell is one of a number of Raeburn’s portraits painted at this date in which the sitter’s emotion is as much a subject of the painting as her likeness, and perhaps by its comparative restraint, it is one of the most successful. Other examples of female half-length portraits at this date rely for too much of their effect on an extravagance of posture or expression; Elizabeth Campbell’s confident, level gaze makes for a more impressive and intense interaction. Unlike other sitters, whose raptured glance to either side of them inevitably deflect our attention, Elizabeth Campbell contains the sitter’s scrutiny within her own and holds them there. The sitter’s command is total, even over her draperies. In other compositions a cloak is pulled tighter over the shoulders to be pulled opened at the breast in an almost melodramatic touch. Here the Marchesa’s cloak rests upon the sitter’s back so lightly that, it seems, the slightest movement would cause it to slip off. Against comparable female portraits by Raeburn at this date, less is more in the case of Elizabeth Campbell, and the sitter came equipped with sufficient personality and presence of her own that the painter needed to trust only his own power to interpret his subject without inventing for her any excess of passion.

Elizabeth Campbell was married to the Marchese di Spineto (c.1774 – 1849), an Italian nobleman and scholar who became prominent in 1820 when he acted as interpreter for Theodore Majocchi, Queen Caroline’s major-domo during her trial before the House of Lords.

1. Duncan Thomson Raeburn Scottish National Portrait Gallery Exhibition catalogue, Edinburgh 1997 p.164
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