P. T. Davies-Cooke Esq. (1909)
Colonel P. R. Davies-Cooke (1956-57)
Welsh private collection
Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1909, no. 65, pl. 24 (Attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger)
Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1956-1957, no. 13 (Attributed to Hans Eworth)
The sitter is shown in a black bodice with sleeves and black embroidered cuffs, the biliment or jewels in the black hood or headdress, with an enamelled chain and a fur tippet around her neck, holding a pair of gloves in her right hand. From her dress she would appear to be a widow, while the black embroidered sleeves came into fashion in England during the 1540s. The modest cut of the sitter’s costume indicates that she may be from a landed gentry rather than the aristocracy. Nonetheless the enamelled necklace and rings, together with the fur tippet, suggest that the woman is likely to be of high status and aware of contemporary fashions.
The portrait can be dated from the style of painting and also from the fashion of dress to c.1545 – 1550, or the years following the death in London of Hans Holbein the younger, the court artist to King Henry VIII. The style of the painting and type of composition is clearly by a Flemish artist working in London, and one who is heavily influenced by the dominant portrait types created by Holbein at the Henrician court. The most prominent painter present in court circles in London between the death of Holbein in 1543 and the arrival of Hans Eworth in 1553 is Scrots. His small but distinguished portrait of court portraiture is distinct from the less well-defined group of portraits that have been tentatively attributed to the so-called ‘Master of the 1540s’, whose intensely described and minutely detailed portrayals have a strong Netherlandish character.
The Flemish painter Scrots [known as Guillaume, Guillim or William] first appears in the archival record on 1 September 1537, when he was appointed court painter to Mary (1505 – 1558), the Habsburg Governor or Regent of the Spanish Netherlands, who was sister to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and widow of the King of Hungary. In 1537 the artist was recorded in the court accounts as ‘Guillaume Scroets’ and he was paid at six sous per day. On 24 October 1544 he was also recorded in a court deposition in Antwerp as ‘Guillaume painctre de a Royne’. It is also known from an inventory of 1556 that two of his earlier paintings of the Emperor Charles V and of the Empress Isabella, painted by ‘maistre Guillaume, Painctre de la royne douairiere d’Hongerie’, were in the court collection in Brussels. Likewise in an inventory made after Mary of Hungary’s death in Spain in 1558, a portrait by ‘Maestro Guillermo’ was found alongside portraits by other more famous Habsburg court portraitists such as Antonis Mor and Titian. The Regent’s court was centred in Brussels, but as a court artist Scrots would have been expected to travel widely Europe to other Habsburg territories and courts. The best evidence of Scrots’s sophisticated portrait production is from two three-quarter length panels representing the Habsburg brothers Archduke Maximilian and Archduke Ferdinand, which are likely to have been painted at the court in Innsbruck, and are still to his day in the gallery at Schloss Ambras. The frank, naturalistic and detailed depictions of the two young men shows that Scrots was well aware of latest polished European and Mannerist court portrait styles, in particular as embodied in the work of Seisenegger at the Habsburg court but also of Bronzino working for the Medici in Florence.
In 1545 Scrots is first recorded in London, working for the court of Henry VIII, when for the year 22 April 1545 to 21 April 1546 ‘Gillim Scroth’ was paid the extraordinarily high sum of £62.10s. Scrots continued to be paid this as an annual salary as court painter to Henry’s son Edward VI, when he was known as an ‘artificer’, a ‘Dutchman’ and as ‘the King’s painter’. Final payments to the artist from the court were made in June1553, the year of the accession to the English throne by Mary, half-sister to Edward VI. There is no further archival record of Scrots in either London or in the Netherlands, as his date or place of death is not known.
The paintings that can be attributed with confidence to Scrots during the period 1545 to 1553, working for the aged Henry VIII and then for the boy-king Edward VI, are centred on the only work that is signed, the famous anamorphic portrait of Edward VI (NPG, London). George Vertue and Horace Walpole noted the signature, which is now not visible to the naked eye but can be seen with Infra-red reflectography as ‘Guihelmus pingebat’. Scrots would have painted the illusionistic profile of the young king at the centre of the elongated panel, while a Netherlandish landscape specialist would be have the surrounding view of the countryside.
Related to this portrait are a group of high-quality portraits of Edward VI on full-length panels, which are attributed to Scrots on the basis of a court document dated 5 March 1551, paying Scrots for three of his portraits (‘tables’) of the King and of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey: ‘To gwillim Strete the painter the som of [fifty] marke for recompense of iij great tables made by the sayd Gwillm wherof ij were the pictures of his highness sent to Sir Phillip hobby and Sr John Mason. The third was a picture of the late earle of Surrey attainted and by the counsailes commandement fetched from the said Gwillms house’. These full-length portraits of the King were clearly intended as ambassadorial tools for international diplomacy with regards to the young monarch’s marriage negotiations with the French royal family. The prime finished full-length of the King is now in the Musée du Louvre, while a secondary version is in The Royal Collection at Hampton Court, and a third inferior example in the Musée Joseph Déchelette, Roanne. The portrait of the recently attainted and executed Earl of Surrey is generally thought to be the unusual full-length of the sitter, framed in an arch adorned with mannerist figure and ornamental decoration (NPG, but on display in situ at Arundel Castle). Also now confidently attributed by scholars to Scrots are the very fine three-quarter length portraits on panel of Edward VI and Elizabeth I (when Princess), both datable c.1546 and in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court.
The final portrait that has been attributed with some confidence to Scrots is the full-length panel of A Lady in Black, painted c.1550 probably for a member of the Huddleston family who were active at the court of Queen Mary I and which is now in an English private collection (cf. Dynasties 1995-1996, pp.51-52, no.15). It is this ambitious and rare early full-length portrait, in which the female sitter of some social standing is presented austerely but with costly biliments offset against her black dress and embroidered collar and cuffs, that is closest in pictorial style and precise execution of line and paint seen so vividly in the small scale panel Portrait of an Unknown Lady. This finely rendered depiction of a mature female sitter marries a sophisticated awareness of continental models of courtly portraiture to a particularly precise set of post-Holbein-esque compositional formulae that remained dominant at the Tudor courts in mid-sixteenth century England, and whose impact continued to be felt until the arrival eighty years later of Van Dyck at the court of Charles I.
We are grateful to Dr. Stephen Lloyd for his contribution in cataloging this work.