Monthly Archives: January 2014

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 1st Baron Dover

May I introduce you to this handsome fellow,

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Lord Dover, by Thomas Lawrence (1823)

his digs,

Gowran Castle, Kilkenny Ireland

and his lady wife,

Georgina Agar Ellis, Lady Dover, 19th century

Lady Dover and son Henry, attributed to Joseph Lee, after Joshua Reynolds (1832 or thereabouts).  You can also view her here.

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover, was husband to the charming Lady Georgina, nee Howard.  He was also the father of four children, two boys (3rd and 5th Baron Dover) and two girls.

The house engraving confused me at first because a mansion is depicted, yet it is called Gowran Castle.  This is because the mansion was built on the grounds on the old castle, which was purchased by the Agar family during the Restoration, and I guess they just kept the name.  The first Agar to hold it, James Agar, Esq, expended a considerable amount in 1713 to improve the castle by casing it in stone and raising its front to two stories.  Unfortunately, by the time of its tear down date in 1816, the castle was in ruins.

I would have liked to find an image of the castle in its pre or post-remodeled glory because the old castle has a fascinating history. During the Third English Civil War, it was an important stronghold when Oliver Cromwell’s forces seized it and shot all within–except the dude who had given them the key to the castle.  He was pardoned, and Cromwell then ordered the Franciscan friar inside to be hanged and the castle burned to the ground.

After the Third Civil War ended, the remains were seized from the royalist Butler family and given to the Lord Deputy of Ireland.  Eventually, James, Duke of York, was granted a number of “forfeited” Irish properties and filled his coffers by selling them. James Agar, Esq. purchased from York, and was the last to put his stamp on the castle.

Gowran Castle post-1819 was the seat of the Viscounts of Clifden and would have been George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover’s, home had he not predeceased his father, Henry Agar-Ellis, 2nd Viscount Clifden. Lord Dover died when he was just 36, but he managed to cram in a considerable amount of accomplishments during his life.

George Agar-Ellis, Baron Dover

Study for Patrons and Lovers of Art by Pieter Christoffel Wonder (1826-1830)

Lord Dover is on the left

© National Portrait Gallery, London

When doing these posts, I like to think about what type of man I’m writing about, and I think that Lord Dover seemed not so much a devil as he was a kind, considerate man.  During his earliest youth, the borough of Gowran was described in one church record as being filled with “wretched habitations” that contributed very little to the borough’s taxable base–essentially the community was poverty stricken.  The 19th century Gowran house would have been the nicest abode around.  Lord Dover grew up to be sensitive and liberal-thinking, a self described “decided reformer” and Whig politican, maybe as a result of his personal and familial history.   His ancestors hailed from the French Comte Venaissin, who fled France due to religious persecution.  A collector of fine art, he was also a man of letters who rescued and edited his family’s letters on the Revolution, 1686-88, from the British Library where they languished in obscurity because he thought them important to English history.  He also wrote a number of books including The True History of the State Prisoner: Commonly Called the Iron Mask, mostly because he found the original history written by Monsieur Delort convoluted and and excessively flattering to King Louis XIV.  Yes, the thoughtful Lord Dover was offended that Delort bestowed compliments on the monarch while “recording one of the most cruel and oppressive acts of the Sovereign’s cruel and oppressive reign.”  See what I mean by sensitive?  His obituary is quite lengthy and lists him “involved [in] the cause of learning, the fine or useful arts, charities, and the improvement of people.”

I think he might be the least eligible “devil” I’ve written about, but it’s refreshing to have a nice guy around these parts once in a while.  You can see more pictures of Lord Dover at the National Portrait Gallery, and if you’ve an exceptionally good eye, you can play where’s Lord Dover in famous Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.  Good luck!

A History of English Miniatures

As is often the case, I recently came across a very dry history book with some hidden gems in it.  Miniatures: Ancient and Modern was written by Cyril Davenport and published in 1908 and although I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re a miniaturist dilettante like I am, it does offer a useful perspective on how English miniatures changed from the 16th through the 19th centuries.  The short answer is not much in terms of shape and overall presentation. Excluding the style exhibited in the day’s favored painter,  miniature portraits gradually grew more sophisticated in terms of backgrounds and range of mediums, but they are still miniatures.

England’s Three Periods of Miniature Art

Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum
Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by
Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum

The 16th century Tudor period marks the first time in English history when miniatures appear in large numbers.  They are influenced by the work of Hans Holbein, the younger and are fairly uniform in design.  Simple blue or red backgrounds predominate and men are the likeliest subjects, although important high-born ladies and Queen Elizabeth do appear.

The shape of the miniature is round, the medium gouache or oils, on vellum or paper, wood or metal, respectively, and no shadows present themselves on the portrait itself. Davenport’s definition of a miniature is no larger than 7×7 inches, which sounds fairly large to me if you wanted to admire someone in the palm of your hand (I always thought miniatures were somewhere in the range of 2×2 inches or less, but I guess not). Anything larger than 7×7 inches gets classified as a cabinet painting, which would measure no more than 2×2 feet.

The black and white mother and son portrait miniatures are from Elizabeth’s reign.  If you do know what Henry, Prince of Wales looks like, you might be wondering if this miniature is actually of his younger brother, Charles I.  Here’s a portrait from 1610-12 painted shortly before Henry death at age 18, making the age depicted in the miniature improbable.

Maybe the miniature below is a keepsake of what Henry would have looked like if he hadn’t died (hmm, I wonder if that was done)?  Or maybe the painter sucked at his art? Another of history’s mysteries, if you’re up for some sleuthing.  You can see Anne’s miniature in color here–the jewels in her hair and ruff are crazy!

The style of the 17th century Stuart period takes a nod from the work of Anthony van Dyck.  Instead of being strictly blue or red, backgrounds add distinctive scenery and short oval shapes compete with the rounds of the previous century.  The mediums have not yet changed.  I personally like the first miniature of a Lady as Flora that was painted by Issac Oliver between 1575 and his death in 1617, making it straddle the Tudor and Stuart period.  The duke in the second miniature has smug looking lips though, so I can’t recommend him.

Portrait of a Lady Dressed as Flora

books-2Before daguerrotypes came onto the scene and resounded the miniature death knell, the third period extended into the 18th and 19th centuries.  They styles is a reflection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings.  Transparent watercolors were introduced, the shape turned oval, and ivory is a popular medium on which to paint.  Ladies also start to appear in miniatures with regularity, though I must say I’ve seen a lot of ladies in 17th century miniatures.

The first three below are 18th century, the fourth is from the 19th, and the fifth is late 19th to early 20th century.

Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum
Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum

 

Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum
Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by
Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum

One last medium that I haven’t mentioned is enamel.  Portraits on enamel have been around since the Byzantine period and during the 16th-19th centuries, were more popular on the continent than in England.  I like how glossy they look.  The colored Mary Wortley Montagu miniature at the top of the post is also enamel.

George IV as Prince Regent, after Lawrence Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum
George IV as Prince Regent, after Lawrence
Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum

Unlike miniatures from the 16th century onward, early examples of Roman miniatures from the first and second centuries A.D. were painted on gold leaf and encased in glass plaques.  The Greeks produced encaustic miniatures, painted on wood with hot beeswax, while Renaissance Italians and Germans also excelled at encaustic works, setting their miniatures in relief with most of their subjects in profile.

Clearly, there’s always been a desire to carry a beloved’s portrait around, making me think that miniatures are kind of romantic.  Yes, they were given as diplomatic gifts and created to commemorate an age or occasion, but I can’t help but feel that many of them are as sentimental as a picture or a photograph in locket, which has got me thinking . . . what’s the history of lockets?

For more information on miniatures, do see:

Victoria & Albert Museum Portrait Miniatures Collection

And if you’d like to know what was going on across the pond, visit the Metropolitan’s Museum of 18th century American miniatures and 19th century American miniatures.  Of particular note is the daring Sarah Goodridge’s self-portrait.  Gotta love a lady with pluck!

Elizabethan Fashion: Any Way You Slash It

A recent reader comment sent me on a journey to discover the history of the style you see below.  If you’re a regular around here, Lady Diana Cecil may look familiar to you (she’s the lady in the punchbowl).  When I first wrote about her, I had no idea what to call the cut-outs on her gown.  Now that I have been educated, I can confidently say they are called slashes, and their history is fantastic.

Lady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger's House, Suffolk Collection)
Lady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

According to popular legend, it all started with a chappie called Charles the Bold.  he was the Duke of Burgundy and in 1476 the Swiss beat his ass on the battlefield.  Ever enterprising, the Swiss looted Charles’s possessions and stumbled on an idea: why not turn the loser’s luxury fabrics into patches that could repair the soldiers’ uniforms?German mercenaries thought this a practical solution to fixing their military garb, and the French court swooned at their unwitting panache.  By the 1500s, slashing was seen all over Europe, brightening ensembles and adding relief to the density of ornate fabrics, as shown on the sleeves below.

Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens
Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens (1620-25)

Another possible origin of slashing describes soldiers cutting strategic lines in their leather tunics to improve maneuverability/breathability but it’s a much less colorful history than Charles’s story.  Whatever way the trend came about, slashing emerged from military fashion and was adopted by both men and women.  Pinking or dagging, which is to say cutting shapes and pulling the bottom fabric out to contrast with the top, was also popular but can you guess which country sported the most elaborate interpretation?  I would’ve said France, but it’s Germany.  A brief exploration of 16th century German portrait painters did not illuminate exactly what this would have looked like, but I did discover that Albrecht Dürer could moonlight as Jesus. In other words, if you happen to know of a good example of the German slash style, do send it my way.

Portrait of a Lady by a follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi
Portrait of a Lady by a follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi

The lady above represents what I’m going to call the entry point into slashing. If you were a fan of subtle, you could go for a few slashes in the shoulder like her, but the style really runs the gamut. I’ve shown you sleeves, shoulders, and the fronts of gowns. That is just the beginning. Shoes and boots were given the knife to add color to otherwise simple designs, and anything that could be slashed was slashed.  The moral authority in Europe even called the peek-a-boo trend depraved. Fashionistas, however, knew there were few upgrades easier than cutting a hole and adding a stitch to keep it from tattering. Even Robert Dudley was a fan.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Attributed to Steven van der Meulen (1560-65)
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Attributed to Steven van der Meulen (1560-65)

So what do all of you think of this style? Love it?  Trash it?  Willing to resurrect the 1980s style of wearing tights under ripped jeans?