In this portrait by Thomas Phillips, Lord Byron wears a red velvet jacket and headdress, with a velvet cloak draped across his left arm. Byron bought the costume in the town of Tepeleni, within the region of Epirus (part of modern Greece and Albania) in 1809, while travelling across southern Europe with his friend, the politician John Cam Hobhouse.
Byron sat for the painting in 1813, aged 25, and had some influence over its appearance. He was particularly sensitive to full-length representations of himself as he suffered from a lame foot. He also asked Phillips to repaint his nose in a more flattering fashion. The translucent paleness of the skin in Phillip’s depiction inspired Walter Scott to liken the it to an alabaster lamp, lit from within.
The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814. It was later bought by Lady Judith Noel, Byron's mother-in-law, and hung at her residence, Kirkby Hall, in Leicestershire. Following the acrimonious separation of Byron and Lady Noel’s daughter, Annabella, in 1816, it was shut in a case. The painting was later bequeathed to Byron and Annabella’s daughter, Ada, on the occasion of her marriage.
Thomas Phillips was born in Dudley, Warwickshire, of modest means. He took up an apprenticeship with a stained glass painter, before moving to London in 1790 to study at the Royal Academy and work in the studio of Sir Benjamin West. Phillips exhibited work at the Academy between 1794 and 1844. In 1808, he was elected a Royal Academician and, in 1825, succeeded Henry Fuseli as Professor of Painting at the Academy. Phillips was a prolific artist, as demonstrated by the 859 portraits listed in his sitters’ notebook. However, today only about 300 portraits by the artist are known to survive.
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