Portraits of the early 17th century often include objects or elaborate clothing referring to the sitter’s profession and status. However, this portrait gives no indication of the profession of the sitter. It has been suggested that the lack of any such devices might indicate that this is a self-portrait of the artist himself; a theory reinforced by the inscription. The lettering at the top right reads: ‘Ætatis Suæ. 59 [aged 59]: 1608.’ which is about the age Peake would have been in that year.
Although the face of the sitter is expertly painted and survives in good condition, the painting of his ruff is poor. This is probably the result of damage to the work some time before it entered the Government Art Collection. It seems that an abrasive treatment was carried out on this part of the painting in an attempt to clean the area. The folds of the ruff have been roughly over-painted, following the damage.
This painting is one of 16 portraits purchased from the British Museum in June 1946 by the Ministry of Works (formerly responsible for the Government Collection). The portraits, ranging in date from the 16th to the 18th centuries, were purchased for the nominal sum of £1 each.
Robert Peake came from a Lincolnshire family. He was apprenticed to a London goldsmith in 1565 and worked as a decorative painter at the court of Elizabeth I in 1576. Peake was appointed Serjeant Painter to James I after his accession in 1607, a post Peake shared with John de Critz (c.1552-1642). Peake was later official artist to Henry, Prince of Wales and may have been his official portraitist. Other examples of his portraits of the Prince are in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Royal Collection, Windsor.
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