Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman, wearing doublet embroidered with coloured flowers, gold braid and buttons, falling lace ruff, grey hair and beard, blue background, c.1620 

John Hoskins the Elder (c.1590-1664/5)

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman, wearing doublet embroidered with coloured flowers, gold braid and buttons, falling lace ruff, grey hair and beard, blue background, c.1620, John Hoskins the Elder
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Watercolour on vellum laid onto card
17th Century
Oval, (1 9/16in) 40mm high
 
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The present work is a rare survival from Hoskinsís early career, when his technique was still heavily influenced by the work of Isaac Oliver (c.1565-1617) and, by the 1620s, that of his son Peter Oliver (1589-1647). The present work also continues the limning tradition as laid down by Nicholas Hilliard, both in its technique and in the courtly presentation of the subject.

A portrait miniature by Hoskins in the Royal Collection, of a man called Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland provides a close comparison for this portrait miniature of an unknown gentleman. An indication of the close working style of the two artists at this date can be seen in Peter Oliverís portraits of Sir Robert Harley [Welbeck Abbey] and his portrait of Ludwig Philip, Duke of Simmern [V&A P28-1975]. These share in common a sensitive depiction of the sitterís features, a solid blue background and meticulous observation of ruff and doublet.

Hoskins was probably extremely close in age to Peter Oliver, who was born in 1589, the eldest son of Isaac Oliver and his wife Elizabeth. The two men were working in London at the same time and for the same circle of patrons, including by the 1620s the king. Peter Oliver trained with his father as a limner whilst Hoskinsís early training, as noted by De Piles, was as an oil painter. His instructor in oils was probably William Larkin (circa 1580-1619), whose influence can perhaps be seen in the present portrait in the careful depiction of the floral-embroidered doublet.

Hoskinsís style diverged from Peter Oliverís during the 1620s, when he became influenced by the influx of oil painters from the Low Countries. Moving away from the precise stipple of the present portrait, his technique loosened and in his palette he began to favour more muted tones in black, white and brown. Hoskinsís brilliant court career was interrupted by the Civil War, and after working almost solely for the monarch over several decades, Hoskins was forced to look elsewhere for commissions. By the late 1630s was running a busy studio where he employed gifted apprentices, including his nephew Samuel Cooper (?1608-1672) and his son, John Hoskins junior (?1630-after 1690).
The fresh condition of the present work, no doubt preserved by a later protective case, make it a truly exceptional survival, as well as a charismatic subject. Although the sitter is unknown, he is likely at this date to belong to the circle of courtiers surrounding King James I and the young Prince of Wales, shortly to become Charles I.
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