Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Margaret Phesant and her mother 1620c.

Paul Van Somer, Follower of 

Portrait of Margaret Phesant and her mother, Paul Van Somer, Follower of
Oil on oak panel
17th Century
44 x 33 inches 113 x 101.6 cm
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This portrait is closely comparable to those that were being produced by Paul van Somer and his studio c.1615 - 1620; the composition particularly recalls his companion portraits of the Earl and Countess of Devonshire 1619 (North Carolina Museum of Art) and as with those which include a son and a daughter with father and mother respectively, this portrait was most probably paired with a painting of Mr Phesant and his son.

It is presently uncertain which members of the family are depicted in the present portrait.The armigerous Phesant family was clearly established in Ireland by the turn of the seventeenth century, and entries at the office of the Ulster King of Arms record the deaths of Amy Phesant in 1622 and Mary Phesant in 1633, the wives of Thomas Phesant of Donnybrook Co. Dublin and of his second son Thomas respectively.

Van Somer's painting finds a place mid-way between the highly-mannered, almost Gothic treatment of the Elizabethan portraitists and the realism of continental, and specifically Netherlandish, portraiture. His popularity on his arrival in England in 1615 might suggest that the native tradition had begun to pall, but Robert Peake II was already practising a far more solid and three-dimensional form of representation, and, in any case, the best works of Marcus Gheeraerts the younger show that he had never been constrained by the earlier idiom.

The portrait is a sumptuous exercise in the depiction of costume and by extension of the rank of its subjects. The jewel about the mother's neck shows a bird, which may be a canting reference to the sitter's name, although it is to be regretted that with so much of Jacobethan wit its original reference is lost and - turning on a jeux d'esprit comprehensible only to its immediate audience - irrecoverable. In intricacy, however, and its employment of different stones and enamels it is comparable to surviving examples of the period in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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