Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex
About the work
Thomas Cromwell was a key figure at the court of Henry VIII, where, as principal advisor to the King, he was chiefly responsible for establishing the Reformation in England, for the dissolution of the monasteries, and for strengthening the royal administration. In this engraving, he is depicted bust-length and in profile, looking to the right. He wears fur-trimmed clothes and a hat on his head. The portrait is contained within a decorative cartouche, inscribed on the margins with the name and title of the sitter. This print was made after a portrait by Hans Holbein which is now in the Frick Collection, New York. The print was engraved for Thomas Birch’s work ‘The Heads of Illustrious Lives and Characters of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain’. Published between 1743–52 by John and Paul Knapton of Ludgate Street, London, it featured 108 portraits of famous British figures from Geoffrey Chaucer to Alexander Pope. Each portrait was accompanied by Birch’s account of the sitter’s biography. Many of the engraved portraits were copies of existing paintings. Artists Charles and George Knapton, printseller Arthur Pond, and book illustrator and engraver Hubert-François Gravelot are all thought to have been involved in selecting 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 decorative borders were designed and engraved by Gravelot. The plates are in most cases dated, some as early as 1738.
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.