Among the very best books ever published on Robert Dudley has to be Elizabeth Goldring’s 2014 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I. Gorgeously illustrated, it demonstrates and proves what has always been suspected by his biographers, that Robert Dudley was the most outstanding Elizabethan art collector (by far). He was also the most often painted man of his time in England. About every two years he sat for a new portrait; this was a lot. Even Elizabeth’s innumerable portraits were derived from only a handful of standard images. One of the people regularly commissioning portraits of the queen was incidentally the Earl of Leicester; Goldring has found that Leicester was “reluctant to hang copies on his walls”, and so these were certainly novel prototypes.
Robert Dudley also had his son, Robert Lord Denbigh (1581-1584), painted from a very a young age. The baby lord was painted dressed and naked, and with his mother, Countess Lettice. The point was to drive home that the house of Dudley had finally an heir.
Robert originally wanted to emphasize his status as a suitor and (hopefully) would-be husband of the queen with his art patronage, but he also displayed genuine interest in art. Groups of art theorists, including his nephew Philip Sidney, met in his house; and he collected subjects highly unusual in England at the time. Not only portraits, but still lives and allegorical paintings. Italians, whether artists, spies, doctors, or merchants, were always among Leicester’s favourites, and he sent Philip Sidney to Venice to be painted by the great Veronese, a portrait that had pride of place at Leicester House.
Sadly, his collections were dispersed after his death and historians for a long time have overlooked his contribution to art collecting in England, believing it started only in the Jacobean era. This wonderful book will finally change that view.