Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Reginald and Lady Mohun 1603/4

 English School 

Portrait of Sir Reginald and Lady Mohun,  English School
Oil on Panel
17th Century
75 x 44 1/4 inches, 190.5 x 111.4cm
Sir Reginald Mohun (c.1564-1639); by whom bequeathed to his wife, Dorothy; presumably, by descent to their daughter Elizabeth Mohun, Lady Trelawny; by descent to Sir John Trelawny; acquired by a Mr Gilbert (probably Charles Sandoe Gilbert (1760-1831)); John Rushout, 2nd Baron Northwick (1769–1859), at Northwick Park, by whom sold; Christies 12th May 1838 (Lot 33, £5.5); Bt Horatio Rodd, art dealer (fl. 1798–1858); Earls of Dunraven, Adare Manor, Limerick Ireland; By descent to 7th Earl of Dunraven (b.1939);
J. Cornforth, ‘Adare Manor, Co. Limerick – The Seat of the Earls of Dunraven’ Country Life 15th May 1969, p.1232, fig. 6.
Dunster Castle, Minehead, Devon, 1982-2004, while on loan to the National Trust
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This picture is one of the earliest examples of a full-length double portrait in English art. It was painted c.1603-4, and celebrates the marriage of Sir Reginald Mohun to his 3rd wife Dorothy, daughter of John Chudleigh (1564-1589). The coat of arms in the centre represents the Mohun family on the left, and Chudleigh on the right. Lady Mohun holds a pink rose, a symbol of marriage, in her right hand.

Sir Reginald (also know as Raynold) Mohun, was an important West Country magnate, who owned large estates in Cornwall at Boconnoc and Hall. He enjoyed a long, if sporadic, parliamentary career, and was elected to the Commons at various times between 1584 and 1625. He represented seats under family control such as East Looe and Fowey. In 1599 he was knighted by Elizabeth I, and later became one of the first baronets created by James I in 1611.

Mohun was evidently a man of great wealth. The prime reason for his appointment to the important post of Deputy Lieutenant of Cornwall, was because “he doth dwell in a convenient place… and is a gentleman of good sufficiency and credit to supply that place” [History of Parliament, House of Commons 1558-1603, p59]. His baronetcy must also be an indicator of wealth, since they were invented by James I as a brazen means of raising money – prices started at £10,000. Mohun’s life was evidently that of a country gentleman; wealth, politics and pleasure.

It is precisely because of such individuals, commissioning new and innovative portraits such as this example, that art in England was able to progress and break new ground. This picture is an exceptionally rare example of a marriage portrait. It is particularly unusual not only in its size and subject, but in the manner in which the married couple are portrayed. Here, the picture is given an endearing characterisation by the linked arms at the centre of the composition. It is thus one of the first instances of affection and tender feeling in early English portraiture, and breaks away from the conventional restrains which had hitherto forced artists to concentrate on presenting a sitter’s wealth and power. While the artist remains unknown, the likenesses and rich dress are painted with exquisite care and attention to detail, in what is possibly the best example of a an early English portrait painted in the regions.

The provenance of this picture can be traced back to the sitter’s family. A catalogue entry from Christies in 1838 lists this picture for sale as “two portraits, large as life, upon panel; supposed to represent Sir Reginald Mohn, and Lady, (the arms being of that ancient family), and which, from the dress of the parties, appears to have been painted about the time of Elizabeth; we are unable to give any further account of this most curious painting, than that it formerly belonged to Mr. Gilbert, historian of the County of Cornwall, and was previously in Sir John Trelawny''s possession.” Mohun’s daughter Elizabeth (b.1593), by his second wife Philippa, married Sir John Trelawny of Trelawny, another West Country magnate. Their son, as well as successive grand-children, was also called Sir John. The Cornish historian referred to by Christies was probably Charles Sandoe Gilbert (1760-1831), who published a Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall (2 vols.) between 1817–20. It is not known exactly when Gilbert bought the picture, but it was almost certainly included in a sale of his possessions following bankruptcy in 1825. It must have been then that Lord Northwick, one of the most famous and discerning collectors of the nineteenth century, bought the picture.
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