Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, 4th Earl of Surrey and 1st Earl of Norfolk (1585-1646) patron of art, collector and politician
About the work
This engraving was published to illustrate a work written by compiler of histories and biographer Thomas Birch (1705-1766), titled ‘The Lives and Characters of Illustrious Persons’ (published 1743-52). The work was published by John and Paul Knapton of Ludgate Street, London, and featured portraits of 108 famous Britons from the time of King Edward III (reigned 1327-77) to contemporary figures. Each portrait was accompanied by Birch’s account of the sitter’s life.
Where possible, the engraved portraits were copies of existing paintings. Artists Charles and George Knapton (cousins of the booksellers and publishers John and Paul Knapton), artist and printseller Arthur Pond, and book illustrator and engraver Hubert-François Gravelot are all thought to have been involved in finding and copying the older portraits required for the project. The engraver and antiquary George Vertue was initially employed to engrave the plates but produced just nine before being dismissed for slowness and replaced by Dutch engraver Jacobus Houbraken, who worked from Amsterdam. The ornamental surrounds of the portraits were designed and engraved by Gravelot. The plates are in most cases dated, some as early as 1740.
About the artist
Peter Paul Rubens was born in Antwerp, the son of a lawyer. He became master of the Guild of Painters of Antwerp in 1598. In 1600, he visited Italy to study ancient sculpture and the Old Masters. He returned in 1608 and was appointed court painter by Archduke Albert. He mainly produced biblical subjects, completing some 60 altarpieces in the late 1610s and early 1620s. He became Advisor and Agent to Archduchess Isabella, helping unite the Netherlands. From 1629 he was Secretary to the Privy Council of the Netherlands, visiting London to achieve an Anglo-Spanish peace agreement. During this visit he accepted several commissions, including ceiling canvases for the Banqueting House for Charles I. In 1630 he returned to Antwerp. He died at 62.