The Duke in Colour

Of the portraits believed to be showing John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland the second most reproduced one hangs at Knole, Kent, in the Brown Gallery. Part of a set of around 40 portraits of 16th century personalities, it used to be attributed to the early output of Jan van Belkamp, a Dutch copyist active in London and Hampton Court who died old-aged in 1653. Now, the National Portrait Gallery, London, is undertaking research, including dendrochronology, which has so far shown this set of pictures to have been painted “around the early years of the seventeenth century”. The panels were made of Eastern Baltic oak commonly used at this period.

On stylistic grounds the researchers assume that several painters worked on the set of portraits, which are all framed identically in highly decorated gilt frames. The results of the eight pictures so far examined indicate “that the paintings were made together in the same workshop and were probably always intended to form a set.” PhD student Catherine Daunt, leading the research, explains that

the Brown Gallery set is of great interest to me because of its size, its range of sitters, its derivation from a variety of sources, and the fact that it is probably in the house for which it was originally made. No set like it survives in Britain and it was probably always unique, tailored for its original owner.

The collection includes personalities such as Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Cromwell, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Henri, Duc de Guise, Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, William Cecil, Robert Cecil, and Stephen Gardiner. All these being politicians, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland seems to fit in well.

A very similar portrait of the duke, at Penshurst, is even better known. In the 1970s the NPG judged it to be “almost certainly copied” from the Knole version, “though not by the same hand”. Indeed the sitter’s dress is the same, although many of the buttons have been omitted, enhancing an air of caricature about it. “Northumberland’s colouring is coarsely healthy – and suspicion is thus aroused; did he rouge to disguise the pallor caused by overwork and nervous strain?”, asked Hester W. Chapman, a highly prejudiced 20th century biographer, who mistook the Penshurst panel for a contemporary original. She saw in it one of the “most vivid likenesses of the age”.

The duke certainly did not rouge but a “rouge effect” is also present in the Knole copy, perhaps merely indicating a complexion not uncommon in Englishmen. Other than Chapman thought, John Dudley’s beard is of the style seen in other portraits of the early 1550s; the Duke of Somerset had no resemblance to his rival with the exception of the basic cut of his beard. Slightly greying, Northumberland’s beard in the Knole picture seems compatible with a man in his late forties, while his costume fits the requirements of a well-dressed nobleman of the early 1550s, ruff and all.


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.

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
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