The portrait of Robert Dudley dressed in silver brocade now at Waddesdon Manor (Buckinghamshire) is believed to have been painted c.1563. The Flemish painter Steven van der Meulen is sometimes believed to be the artist, and he died in 1563 or early 1564. Other than in the other surviving portraits of Robert Dudley, he has a dog at his side, although this portrait was not the only one with a dog, originally: In the early 1580s Robert commissioned a likeness of himself in “full proportion [full-length] … with Boy his dog by him”, as well as “my lady’s whole proportion … and my young lord standing by her”.
In the earlier portrait with his dog Robert Dudley is wearing a jewel in his hat depicting the mythical heroic Roman Marcus Curtius on horseback. According to legend, Marcus literally saved Rome from the abyss by riding into a chasm that had opened in the Forum. The allusion was particularly fitting for the queen’s Master of the Horse (an office Robert had held from the second day of the reign, 18 November 1558).
The portrait also has a pair of Ionic columns in the background; they were possibly intended to symbolize the Pillars of Hercules, the emblem of the Emperor Charles V. Robert Dudley’s left arm rests on a chair upholstered in red velvet, and he is holding a pair of gloves in his left hand. Both the pillars and the dog looking up to his master, perhaps even the red chair, art connoisseurs could associate with the iconography of Charles V, as the Imperial portraits were well-known at the time (through copies, but mostly through woodcuts and prints).
Robert Dudley was raised to be Earl of Leicester on 29 September 1564 and on this occasion a coronet was added to the coat of arms representing his membership in the Order of the Garter, on the right. The other coat of arms, on the left, was only added later, in 1566, after Robert Dudley had also become a member of the prestigious French Order of St. Michael. The Order of St. Michael had been founded in 1469 as a French counterpart to the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece and the English Order of the Garter.
Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2014.
Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, 1995.