Recently we visited Montecute House in Somerset, home of the Phelips family for nearly five hundred years; there is a gallery of paintings from the National Portrait gallery and I think it will be a place I’ll visit many times – to look at those faces, faces of people it would be so easy to imagine bumping into as I walked down the stairs or went into the cafe.
It was interesting to notice other details too; most of the portraits here are ‘after’ original paintings – there was a sort of mass production going on even in Tudor times. I’m not expert enough to be able to judge any of these wonderful pieces, I just look at them and feel a connection to some of the people looking back at me. However, one thing I noticed, there seems to be a very stylised way of painting other parts of the figure, particularly the hands. painting after painting all has hands the same shape, very thin, with very long, disproportionate long it seemed to me – white fingers.
I came to a portrait of Sir Thomas Edmondes or Edmonds, who was born in 1563 and lived to be seventy-six, quite an achievement in those dangerous and difficult times. He was a diplomat and politician, and served Elizabeth I, James I who knighted him, and Charles I, before retiring to his residence in Essex. He was a short man, and often called the ‘little man’ but not in a disrespectful way as he was very much admired.
His character really comes through this painting by Daniel Mytens (Daniël Mijtens); Mytens came to England in 1618, so Sir Thomas would have been well into his sixties when this was painted. What I also noticed about this painting, was how finely painted his hands were, real hands, not those etiolated, pale forms of other pictures. Sir Thomas is carrying his white staff of office, to it is not merely a prop but an important part of the image… it would have been a disservice to him and his emblem, if he’d had feeble hands!
Here is more information about Sir Thomas: