Historical Portraits Picture Archive

The Shoe Maker and His Apprentice, c. 1725 1725c

Peter Angelis 1685 - 1734

The Shoe Maker and His Apprentice, c. 1725, Peter Angelis
Oil on canvas
18th Century
29 1/2 x 25 1/2 in 75 x 65 cm
Dating from around 1725, this appears to be the earliest recorded image of an English shoemaker with the detailed trappings of his business. Of further interest is the inclusion of the cobbler''s apprentice. In its meticulous rendering of detail it follows the Dutch tradition of depicting scenes of everyday life.

Previous European images of shoemakers include Adrian van Ostade''s etching The Cobbler of 1671 which shows a shoemaker working in dreadful conditions from a dog kennel. By c.1633, the time of Abraham Bosse''s engraving of The Shoemaker's assistants and the finished articles are hung on display for prospective buyers. Another early image is G Terborch's oil painting The Shoemaker, in Northampton Museum from the 1660's. Like the Angelis, these three images are painted in the minute detail of the Dutch tradition. The latter two show the shoemakers in their workshops, yet only the Terborch compares with Angelis''s painting in its descriptive of detail and the inclusion of the tools of the trade.

In 1725 Daniel Defoe described the English dress in The Complete English Trademan. He wrote of their shoes that they were from Northampton for all: the poorest countrymen and the master. (1) In this way Northampton gained its reputation which continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century. With cheaper labour the town was able to suply shoes to London and to be exported to the growing empire. By the 1730''s London''s shoe market had grown to such an exten that shoemakers were establishing small workshops and market stalls wherever they could. Apprentices, or unskilled labourers, in particular wounded soldiers, were taken on and trained for seven years before becoming masterman. Shoemakers were frequently of non-conformist religion. (2) The neckerchief and hat of the cobbler, as well as the large black hat in hanging on the wall, suggest that he is a Quaker.(3) Infact, George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement had been apprenticed to a shoemaker in Nottingham, England in around 1640 (4).

Angelis was primarily a painter of landscapes and conversation pieces. His foregrounds are often taken up by small figures and still-life studies. His style was influenced by Watteau and Teniers and he forms an important middle-ground between these two painters. By the time of this painting he was learning from the great masters Van Dyck and Rubens.

The artist was born in Dunkirk. Though known as Angelis in England, his real name is known from the registry of his native town to be Angillis. He was working in Antwerp in 1716, for the painter Jean Baptise Bouttats and it was during this time that he became a member of the Painters Guild of St Luke. After a trip to Dusseldorf he returned to Antwerp and stayed there for three years. His main career, hower, was in London, where he settled between c.1719-28. Vertue records, in his contemporary account Covent Garden Piazza inhabitied by painters....Angelis. He worked from a shop in Covent Garden, specialising in local scenes of trades and his work proved to be extremely popular. (5) In 1728 he sold his paintings at auction, probably in England, and went to Rome. Among the works he sold were the four copies after Rubens and Snyders, now in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. He stayed in Rome for three years where his pictures were much admired. However, his reluctance to exhibit his work, due to his reserved character, may have meant that he was not always been as esteemed as he should have been. Despite this, on his return from Rome, he was so inundated with commissions in Rennes that he spent the rest of this life there, dying in the city in 1734.

1.) J. Swan, Shoemaking, p. 9.
2.) Shoes: Fashion and Fantasy, p.37.
3.) The Quakers were greatly persecuted during the 1730''s.
4.) DNB, vol. 7, p.557.
5.) ''Vertue Notebooks III'', The Walpole Society, vol. XXII, p.30.
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