Thomas Wilson (1523/4-1581) [not as inscribed Nicholas Bacon] Secretary of State, diplomat and humanist

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Art Collection

    The 1575 oil on panel portrait on which this work is based is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. The rectangular canvas shows a three-quarter length view of a sitter now identified as Thomas Wilson (1523/4-1581), humanist and administrator. The work is thought to have been painted during the Wilson’s embassy to the Low Countries from November 1574 to March 1575. Although acknowledged as the work of a Flemish painter, the work is too damaged for a precise identification of the artist.

    This print, published in 1738, dates from a time when the oil portrait was wrongly identified as the result of an incorrect inscription. A painted ‘cartellino’ (painted area giving the illusion of a small piece of inscribed paper attached to the work) at the bottom left of the work gives the sitter’s name as ‘Nicholas Bacon’. As Roy Strong (NPG Director 1967-73) explained in 'National Portrait Gallery Tudor & Jacobean Portraits' (1969): ‘The ‘cartellino’ identifying it wrongly as Nicholas Bacon is 17th century in date (it was repaired in 1692 as ‘my Lord Bacon’) and this misidentification persisted until [former NGP Director George] Scharf correctly read the arms [seen in reverse on a signet ring] in 1877.’

  • About the artist
    Jacobus Houbraken was born in Dordrecht, the son of Dutch artist and art historian Arnold Houbraken. Jacobus studied under his father, before making his name engraving portraits after both Old Master and contemporary artists, producing works for several countries. He engraved the plates for the third edition of Paul de Rapin’s ‘History of England’ (1743–47) and also for Thomas Birch’s ‘The Heads of Illustrious Lives and Characters of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain’ (1743–52). Hubert-François Gravelot produced the ornamental designs for both works. Houbraken’s pupils included Dutch printmaker and draftsman, Pierre Tanje. Houbraken died in Amsterdam at about the age of 82.
    Federico Zuccaro was born in the Marches, Italy. From the age of ten, he worked in his brother Taddeo’s studio in Rome. He later moved to Venice and then Florence, becoming a member of the Accademia del Disegno. He returned to Rome after Taddeo’s death. After a spell in Paris, he visited London in 1575 and was introduced to the court of Elizabeth I. His drawings of Dudley and Elizabeth are in the British Museum. He later completed the frescoes in the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, which were previously started by Giorgio Vasari. In 1579, he worked for Pope Gregory XIII’s on the frescoes in the Pauline chapel in the Vatican. He was expelled from Rome for displaying a satirical image. He worked in Venice and Spain, before becoming first principal of the Accademia di San Luca. In his final years he wrote ‘L’idea de’ scultori, pittori e architetti’ (1607).
  • Explore
    Wilson, Thomas
    Materials & Techniques
  • Details
    Thomas Wilson (1523/4-1581) [not as inscribed Nicholas Bacon] Secretary of State, diplomat and humanist
    published 1738
    Presented by Dr. Peter Rusk, November 1973
    GAC number