“The Lip of a Sensualist”: John Dudley’s Uncertain Portraits

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Some authors have seen the archetypical villain look down on them from this picture.

This terrifying study … is still hanging in Sir Henry Sidney’s manor-house of Penshurst, and is one of the … most vivid likenesses of the age. Although the painter was obviously not a great nor even a distinguished craftsman, the mingling of slyness, mockery and contempt with which the sitter eyed him gave his reproduction of these qualities an extraordinary power and conviction. Northumberland’s colouring is coarsely healthy – and suspicion is thus aroused; did he rouge to disguise the pallor caused by overwork and nervous strain? The red, pouting, sensual mouth, the high arched eyebrows … are in marked contrast to the drab, flattened aspect of his fellow-conspirators, as is the flamboyance of his dress. His black velvet surcoat is trimmed with sable, his scarlet doublet sets off the sapphire blue of his Garter ribbon; the white plume and jewelled classical medallion in his cap draw attention to the cold merriment, the sharp jaundice of his glance. The whole conveys a fearful certainty. So Northumberland must have appeared to those he bullied and subjugated.1

The probable model for the portrait at the top, this painting is more properly done and of a better quality.

The probable model for the portrait at the top, this painting is more properly done and of a better quality.

Thus, in 1962, the popular biographer Hester W. Chapman elaborated on the most often reproduced of the supposed likenesses of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Sadly, none is of certain provenance and hence cannot be authenticated.2 Is it at all likely that any of the portraits commonly associated with John Dudley are really showing the duke?

The painting that so delighted Hester Chapman is similar to another one at Knole, Kent. The Knole portrait is painted as an oval, like the Penshurst one. It is one of many other portraits of 16th century noblemen and statesmen in similar shape and frame for a picture gallery at Knole. Dendrochronology done in 2012 on other pictures in the set suggests that it was painted “around the early years of the seventeenth century.”3 The costume, including the small white ruff with black border, is certainly in keeping with early 1550s fashion. There is also a marked facial resemblance to portraits of Northumberland’s sons Ambrose and Robert, and thus no good reason to doubt the identification. Given its relatively early date, it seems reasonable to assume that the Knole picture was based on some lost earlier portrait or copy of a portrait.

The National Portrait Gallery, London, judged the Penshurst portrait to be ‟almost certainly copied“ from the Knole portrait, ‟though not by the same hand.“4 A comparison between the two paintings is revealing: In contrast to the Kent portrait the shoulders in the Penshurst version are definitely sloping, and there are far too few buttons; on a closer look it also becomes obvious that the neck region is unfinished, giving the sitter a bull-necked appearance. Taken together, these features produce almost an air of caricature.

A slightly younger John Dudley. His wand of office, full lips, and Garter ribbon are discernible.

Among the many common features of both paintings the full lips have caused comment: Philip Lindsay, another author of popular biographies, could not resist to use them for his own efforts at character assassination in 1951: ‟It is the lip of a sensualist, one who would appear to have had few desires beyond dalliance in a lady’s lap. A contradiction, we feel, confounding all that we believe we know about physiognomy; yet does it not suggest … ‟.5 Indeed Lindsay goes on to speculate that John Dudley, of whom no extramarital adventures are known, nor were ever hinted at by his considerable numbers of enemies, might have been a sort of suppressed womanizer after all, his happy family life being but a façade.

Another picture at Penshurst is said to be of John Dudley. The cut of the beard and the fashion are different from the other portraits though in accordance with the later 1540s up to 1550. The sitter is holding a wand of office and his Garter ribbon is discernible. Intriguingly, it is of the same kind as the ribbon in the two other pictures. John Dudley became Viscount Lisle in 1542 and a Knight of the Garter and Lord Admiral in 1543; from 1547 he was Lord Great Chamberlain and in 1550 became Grand Master of the Household, offices which would explain the staff.

John Dudley in an 1838 engraving after a picture at Syon House

At Syon House we find a portrait thought to represent John Dudley holding a flower. Such a flower can also be seen in a portrait of George Simon of Cornwall, painted by Holbein the Younger in 1536 or 1537.7 The dress, collar, and cap would suggest an earlier date than the other portraits, such as the 1530s, and in 1537 Dudley became vice-admiral, his first significant post in the government. Perhaps he marked this occasion with a portrait, which later may have served as a model for the picture at Syon. The Syon portrait and the Penshurst portrait with the wand of office bear considerable facial resemblance to each other, and in both feature the famous full lips of the two later portraits.

All portraits discussed here are identified as likenesses of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland by inscriptions. Of course that in itself does not mean anything; however, since Dudley became a case of damnatio memoriae after his downfall, it is not very likely that any portraits of other people would have been associated with him just to enhance their market or memorial value (this is what has regularly happened in connection with his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey). Two of the four presumed portraits of John Dudley are to be found at Penshurst, the home of his daughter Mary Sidney; the other two are found in houses he possessed as Duke of Northumberland, Knole and Syon. It seems not wholly unwarranted to assume that all four are ultimately based on authentic likenesses of the duke.

See also:
The Duke in Colour

1 Chapman 1962 p. 125
2 Jordan and Gleason 1975 pp. 71, 72
3 knolenationaltrust
4 Jordan and Gleason 1975 p. 72
5 Lindsay 1951 p. 38
7 commons.wikimedia.org

Chapman, Hester (1962): Lady Jane Grey. Jonathan Cape.

Jordan, W. K. and Gleason, M. R. (1975): The Saying of John Late Duke of Northumberland Upon the Scaffold, 1553. Harvard Library.

Lindsay, Philip (1951): The Queenmaker: A Portrait of John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland, 1502-1553. Williams & Norgate.

Loades, David (2004): ‟Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.



About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at www.allthingsrobertdudley.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in John Dudley, paintings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to “The Lip of a Sensualist”: John Dudley’s Uncertain Portraits

  1. boswellbaxter says:

    I really must get hold of the Lindsay book someday, but I’m not sure if I can bring myself to pay more than a small sum for it.

    I love it when popular biographers go into flights of physiognomy. Chapman’s analysis of Frances Grey’s “positively terrifying” appearance, based upon a portrait that it turned out later wasn’t even of Frances, is a classic.

  2. I was also going to ask about the portrait of John Dudley holding the flower. It is in Derek Wilson’s book The Uncrowned Kings of England and it states “the only known or assumed portrait of John Dudley”. Seems that there is a lot of confusion about portraits of John.

  3. That engraving is from Lodge: http://www.archive.org/stream/illustriousperso02lodguoft#page/n25/mode/2up
    There are several pictures “after Holbein” in that volume, one, the Duke of Norfolk is indeed based on a Holbein, although very freely. Edward VI is no Holbein, the painter was long dead by then. Lady Jane is from the Wrest Park portrait and easily recognizable. Cranmer after Flicke is not bad. Now to John Dudley: The costume seems in keeping with Holbein’s time, certainly the collar; interestingly, Lady Dudley’s uncle, Sir Henry Guildford, was painted by Holbein! If the original — whether Holbein or not — was indeed a Dudley portrait, which could be the case, it would show a younger John Dudley, perhaps around 1540.

    In the Lodge volume I’ve finally found the WRONGLY labelled portrait of Henry Grey Duke of Suffolk: http://www.archive.org/stream/illustriousperso02lodguoft#page/n65/mode/2up
    This is clearly after a Leicester portrait from the 1570s, now in the NPG! You can see immediately from the costume that it can’t be Suffolk. — I’ve always wondered why it is in Eric Ives’ book on Lady Jane! Even in the Lodge volume it was attributed to Marcus Geeraerts, an Elizabethan court painter (although it is no longer believed to be Geeraerts). The Leicester portrait is here: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw03853/Robert-Dudley-1st-Earl-of-Leicester?LinkID=mp02686&role=sit&rNo=1
    There is even the engraving, also in the NPG: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw208505/Robert-Dudley-1st-Earl-of-Leicester

  4. boswellbaxter says:

    Sorry, just saw the last comment about the “Henry Grey” portrait. That’s a great job of error-catching!

  5. Tokyo Joe says:

    Hello. I enjoy this site very much. I love the Dudleys, especially John. I think he simply is a great statesman and a good family man. Concerning his appearance, I stumbled upon this theory. What do you think?
    I suppose the Penshurst portrait it refers to is the same one as the third portrait with the wand of office you have here. Look at the full lips of this “unknown man with lute”! Notice what it says about his ‘prominent lower lids’ and see this version of the commonly known engraving in the National Portrait Gallery.
    This NPG version (apparently made in the 18th century) looks sinister yet it has the same prominent lower lids, strait nose and full lips of the Penshurst portrait with the wand of office and of the ‘Man with Lute’ by Holbein. The lute man and the NPG engraving both look (to me at least) like his son Robin. I suspect the NPG engraving is perhaps closer to the original portrait than the other version. I’m inclined to believe that the sitter of the above Holbein is John Dudley. It could have been painted while he was vice admiral rather than Lord Admiral.
    Sorry about a long post. I am so curious about this Holbein.

  6. Hi, I am delighted you like the site, and thanks for the interesting thoughts and links! There is indeed some resemblance of the facial details of the Holbein picture with all three of the portraits reproduced above, I think. To compare the Knole and the other Penshurst picture as well with the Holbein is worthwhile: around the eyebrows, for example, and the eyelashes of the sitter’s right eye. The latter are also similar in the Penshurst pic with the staff (I am afraid that’s not very visible on that photo).

    Regarding the engraving in the NPG, that seems to be based on the Knole type of portrait because of the cloak, ruff, buttons, and the jewel in the cap; however it may well have been based on a version different (perhaps older) than the two above.

    I am personally not sure about the Holbein sitter looking like John Dudley; but it definitively has to be somebody, and the admiralty connection is certainly a very important lead! I think it is very likely that John would have had himself painted by Holbein.

    • Looking at close-ups on book covers, there really is an extraordinary resemblance of Robert Dudley’s lips with those in the Holbein, I mean in Robert’s early portrait in the Wallace Collection. As you say, that’s quite fascinating!

    • Tokyo Joe says:

      Sorry about misspelling. (Can you correct?) I meant lower “eyelids” not just “lids” and straight nose.
      Eyelashes. Look at an even more sinister version of the NPG engraving.
      Hilarious, isn’t it? A true likeness of a closet sensualist? As this was produced in the 19th century, it could just be a copy of the NPG version, yet the original portrait could have existed up until the 19th century. The prominent eyelashes and the lower eyelids are the same as those in the NPG one. And the lips. Look at John’s grandson, Robert Sidney.

      I think the shape of his lips (particularly the upper lip) is very similar to that of John’s in his engraving with a flower (presumably after Holbein) and also of the “lute man.” Robert Sidney in this portrait has also prominent lower eyelids and eyelashes like the NPG John. The shape of his eyes looks similar to that of his uncle Leicester’s, which in turn resembles that of the NPG John (and of the lute man, I think). So, I suspect the distinctive feature of John was indeed his lips and probably his eyes.
      This Robert Sidney overall looks (to me at least) like John with a flower. The original of the flower engraving could indeed have been by Holbein, as it strikes a similar pose to this Holbein work.

      Sorry about a long post again. I’m probably overexcited, because it’s Holbein!!

  7. Tokyo Joe says:

    I’m slightly uncomfortable about the Knole portrait, because it looks too much like Robert, particularly this.

    Robert in his numerous portraits usually stares at the viewer, whereas John neither in his Penshurst “staff” portrait nor in the flower engraving does that. Most of the Holbein sitters except King Henry do not either. I suspect it was not the style of his day. I cannot see the details of the Knole portrait clearly online, yet in its Penshurst copy John has the type of beard with the point split into two. Robert and William Cecil wear this type of beard but not the Holbein sitters. Wasn’t the style Elizabethan or was it also common in Henry’s days? The shape of the cap in the Penshurst copy also differs from the NPG engraving, looking more like Robin’s cap. Could it be that the artist who did the Knole portrait (as a copy of an existing image of John) deliberately made it look like Robert for whatever the reason? Perhaps it fitted their image of John as an all-powerful dictator more than the softly looking John in the actual portraits (as in the flower engraving), since Robert’s image as a powerful man would have been still vivid in the 17th century with his numerous portraits extant everywhere. It’s just my idle speculation.

  8. Tokyo Joe says:

    I am curious as to how this Holbein ended up in the Uffizi, Florence.
    The sitter seems to have been a great-uncle of Robert Dudley Jr’s bigamous wife. Could she have brought it with her when she left England with Robert? If so, I suspect he might have done the same with his own family Holbeins. I wonder how the “lute man” ended up in Berlin.
    I wish the original of the flower engraving still existed, though it might have been just another copy of a Holbein. The engraver of the “flower” John did a reasonable job on Cecil and Anne Boleyn from their well known portraits.
    Thanks for the reply. Please keep up the fabulous work on this site.

  9. Thank you! I think the Knole picture fits reasonably well into the fashion of perhaps around 1552/1553. If you have a look at the Duke of Somerset’s and his brother’s portraits, one can see the habit of staring at the viewer was established by that time, after all it’s some 5-10 years after Holbein’s death: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_Seymour.jpg ; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Seymour,_Baron_Seymour_from_NPG.jpg . Please also compare Somerset’s beard with that of John Dudley in the slightly funny Penshurst portrait, it’s almost exactly the same!

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