Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Henry Howard, Duke of Norfolk 1660c.

John Michael Wright (16171694)

Portrait of Henry Howard, Duke of Norfolk, John Michael Wright
Oil on canvas
17th Century
53 x 42 inches 134.6 x 106.7 cm
From the sitter by descent to The Lord Talbot of Malahide at Wardour Castle.
Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530-1790 1953, p. 72, pi. 66b. Guy Wilson, ''Greenwich Armour in the Portraits of John Michael Wright'' The Connoisseur, February 1975, pp. 111-114.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, John Michael Wright - The Kings Painter 16 July - 19 September 1982, p.42 & 70 no 15, illus.
John Michael Wright was the most distinguished and original native-born portrait painter of the Restoration. His sensitive characterisation and individuality, combined with his flair for the portrayal of Stuart grandeur appealed particularly to the taste of English Catholics. Amongst his most eminent patrons were the leading Catholic families of the Howards and the Arundels. At Wardour Castle, where our portrait remained until recently, was a group of portraits by Wright, including a crucifixion scene with the kneeling figures of Henry, 3rd Lord Arundel and his wife.
Wright's parents were probably Scottish and he spent his apprenticeship working for George Jamesone in Edinburgh.

Early in the 1640s he left for Rome, not only to study and paint, but also to collect and deal in antiquities. He returned to England in 1655 and by 1660 had established a successful portrait-practice in London, being described by the diarist, John Evelyn ad the famous painter Mr Write.

The identity of the sitter as Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk is confirmed by Adrian Hanneman's portrait of the 6th Duke at Arundel Castle, dated 1660. As with many of his contemporaries, Henry Howard spent much of his youth abroad. By 1665 he had settled at his villa at Albury, Surrey, where Evelyn visited him and admired his pictures and curiosities. According to Evelyn, Howard was instrumental in restoring the dukedom to Norfolk, which fell to his elder brother Thomas, by settling the debts of his grandfather, Thomas Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), the famous collector. Henry was also a keen connoisseur and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 28th November 1666, to whom he presented the greater part of his library. In 1667 his friend Evelyn persuaded him to give the famous Arundel marbles, which were lying neglected in the garden of Arundel House, to the University of Oxford.

On the death of his first wife Lady Anne Somerset, eldest daughter of Edward, 2nd Marquis of Worcester, in 1662 he is said by Evelyn to have fallen into a deep melancholy and to have sought relief in a course of dissipation, which impaired both his fortune and reputation. He married secondly his mistress, Jane Bickerton, whose father was a gentleman of the wine cellar to Charles II. He died in 1684 at Arundel House and was buried at Arundel Castle, except for his heart which was deposited at the convent of St Elizabeth in Bruges.

Writing about his portrait, which is considered one of Wright's finest, Sir Ellis Waterhouse said: The pattern is original and the whole conception of the portrait has a nobility to which Lely never attained. Its success is attested to by the fact that Wright painted other versions of it. The composition of the picture is unusual with the prominent angle of the stone parapet or tomb ledge, on which the plumed helmet and sword rest, pushing the sitter back from the foreground, thereby defining the middle and distant planes. The latter contains a vignette of a dismounted groom leading a saddled horse along a path, a favourite motif of the artist. The sober tones of the painting are relieved by the brilliant pink sash and the red helmet lining. The armour that the sitter wears features in a number of Wright's male portraits of the 1660s. It has been suggested the artist probably kept in his studio a small collection of this armour which was produced in the royal workshop at Greenwich up until the Civil War. Deliberately anachronistic, it serves symbolically to stress military prowess and ancestral status.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.