Nicholas Lanier came of Huguenot stock and was a third generation member of a family of court musicians. He served his apprenticeship in the household of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, the hugely influential statesman and collector. He is said to have then entered the household of Henry, Prince of Wales, after whose premature death in 1612, Lanier remained at court. In 1616 he was admitted to the King's Musick, or royal court band, as a lutenist and singer. He was also a skilled viol player. Lanier was the first to hold the title of Master of the King's Musick; the precise date of his appointment is unknown but he is first named as Master in documents dating from 1626. The post held a pension of £200 - four times more than Inigo Jones received as the King's Surveyor.
During his early years as a member of the Musick, Lanier was also able to develop his interests in art and connoisseurship, a pursuit which ultimately led to him becoming principal picture agent to King Charles I. In May or June 1625, immediately after Charles's accession, he was despatched to Italy to begin negotiations for the purchase of the celebrated collection of Ferdinando Gonzaga, 6th Duke of Mantua. Using Venice as his base, he also made expeditions elsewhere in search of works of art for other members of the English court. In Rome on 26 January 1626, a license was issued permitting him to export a collection of pictures including a portrait of himself - perhaps that by van Dyck (now Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, see fig. 1).
Back in England by April 1626, he returned to Italy the following year in order to complete the purchase of the Gonzaga collection. By July 1628 he was home again, combining a return to his musical duties with, through his dealing activities, being arguably the most influential figure in the London art market. Forced by the politics of the Civil War to flee to the Continent, he was re-instated as Master of the King's Musick at the Restoration, and continued in that post until his death in 1666.
The sitter seems almost certain to be Lanier. He had grey-blue eyes, a red beard and auburn hair; the shapes of the beard and moustache also conform to those he adopted. The shape of the nose (which suggests a break at some time) is distinctive, and common to all other portraits known or assumed to be of him. The sitter's ring also appears similar to that shown in the portrait by van Dyck, as well as in other purported depictions of Lanier.
The musical elements of the picture are of course also apt for Lanier. The lute has nine double courses or sets of strings although, due possibly to old damage, the decorative rose in the belly of the instrument is shown only as a black circle or hole, while the peg-box with its tuning pegs has been painted or re-painted at an impossible angle.
Perhaps the greatest clue to the sitter's identity is contained in the inscriptions on the piece of parchment or paper on the table. Although some of the lettering is indistinct, the four relatively legible words continue the musical theme by clearly starting with the second, third, fifth and sixth notes of the tonic sol-fa scale, namely 'RE', 'MI', 'SOL', 'LA'. It is not impossible that 'FA', the fourth note, has been obscured beneath the 'RE'. The basic note on the scale, 'UT', seems not to be present. Each note, however, is only the first syllable of a complete word, in a form of word-play. These appear to spell out 'REquiem' (Peace), 'MIserum' (Pity), 'SOLitudinam' (Solitude) and 'LAborem'(Work). It is just possible, however, that the final word, which begins 'LA', can be read as 'Lasnier'. Lasnier, Laniere, Laneere, and Lennier were all alternative spellings of Lanier used at the time.
The relevance of the two inset pictures, upper right, is not clear. We are grateful to Jeremy Howarth for confirming that that on the left, showing The Liberation of Saint Peter, is by Hendrick van Steenwyck, although in Mr Howarth's opinion, the figures were supplied by another hand. Steenwyck, a painter of architectural scenes in the Flemish tradition, was in England between 1617 and approximately 1639, and received some patronage from King Charles I. The scene to the right shows an artist painting a portrait of a man resembling the Duke of Buckingham. This seems to be by a weaker hand than the main body of the picture. Lanier was a competent if hardly exceptional amateur artist himself - could this be by him?
The statuette appears to be a reduced copy of the celebrated Belvedere Antinous, the original of which came to prominence having been bought by Pope Paul III in 1543. Lanier's knowledge of it is of interest in consideration of the picture's date which, on stylistic grounds is generally given to the early-to-mid-1620s. Would Lanier have known of the statue before his first trip to Rome (departed May June 1625), or did he bring the figure back with him (returned by April 1626)? In either event, his interest in the statue may have influenced King Charles I's attempt, in the late 1620s, to acquire some of the most famous antique statues in Rome. Having failed to buy the originals, Charles commissioned Le Sueur to cast life-size bronze copies in the early 1630s. That of the Belvedere Antinous was originally displayed at Greenwich and is now at Windsor.
We are very grateful to the late Sir Oliver Millar for the original suggestion that the sitter might be Lanier, and to Dr Michael Wilson, author of Nicholas Lanier, Master of the King's Musick (Scolar Press, 1994), for his help with preparing this catalogue entry.