The sitter has traditionally been identified as Bridget, Lady Hickman (d. 1683), the youngest daughter of Sir John Thornhagh (1567-1627), who married Sir Willoughby Hickman, 1st Bt., of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. However, on the basis of the inscription, which dates the portrait to 1617 and gives the age of the sitter as seventeen, this is untenable, since Bridget Thornhagh is recorded as dying in 1682, aged seventy-seven, implying she was born circa 1606. The portrait is more likely to be of Jane, Lady Thornhagh, who married Bridget Thornhagh's brother Francis Thornhagh (1593-1643) in circa 1615. Jane Thornhagh (d. 1660), was the daughter of Sir John Jackson of Edderthorp and Hickleton, Yorkshire, and his wife Elizabeth Savile, who were married in 1594. While her exact birthdate is unknown, she was the eldest of her parents' daughters and, given that their eldest son was born in 1597 and their second son in circa 1603 it seems reasonable to suppose that she was born in 1599, which would accord with the age of the sitter in this portrait. The Thornhagh and Jackson families were evidently close; Jane Thornagh's brother married her husband's younger sister Elizabeth. Sir Francis Thornhagh was educated at Cambridge and served as Member of Parliament for East Retford (1603-14). He was knighted in 1615 and was a Justice of the Peace for Nottinghamshire (1626-37), in which capacity he was responsible for collecting the third levy of Ship Money. He was later appointed Deputy-Lieutenant (1637) and then High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire (1637-8), a position which his father had also held. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was appointed a member of the parliamentary committee for the county and undertook to raise a regiment of horse to fight against the King. Their son, Colonel Francis Thornhagh (c. 1617-48), who campaigned as a young man with the Earl of Essex against the Spanish in the Netherlands, was one of the most brilliant soldiers from Nottinghamshire during the Civil War, fighting for the Parliamentary cause, and was killed at the Battle of Preston (1646).
Lady Thornhagh is shown in masque costume that was fashionable in England between 1610 and 1620, the manner in which she wears her hair also conforms with masque custom. The pale yellow of her lace collar was especially fashionable at the time and can be seen in a number of other portraits executed in the second decade of the 17th century. The colour became notorious owing to a court case of 1616 in which Lady Somerset was accused of murdering Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613 with the aid of Anne Turner, who was also famous for her skill as a yellow starcher (see A. Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, London, 2005, p. 172). The exaggerated two-dimensional style of the artist emphasises the elaborate and expensive nature of the sitter's embroidered costume. Motifs such as sea monsters and flora, as appear on the sitter's dress, were fashionable in the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, particularly after publication of Geffrey Whitney's A Choice of Emblems and Other Devices of 1586, which gave such motifs symbolic significance. The sharpness of the detail of the costume in this portrait reflects the fact that it was executed on panel rather than canvas.
William Larkin was a British-born artist whose father was a freeman of the Bakers' Company. As with most Elizabethan and Jacobean painters, little is known about Larkin, especially as he never occupied an official position at court. He lived in the parish of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Holborn, and later in St. Ann Blackfriars. The first known reference to him is in 1606, when it is recorded that he gained his Freedom of the City of London, as a member of the Painter-Stainers' Company, on the request of Lady Arabella Stuart and Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (?1539-1621), nephew of King Henry VIII's third Queen, Jane Seymour. His career was cut short by his untimely death in 1619 when he was only in his late thirties. Larkin's work is primarily understood through a pair of oval portraits of Sir Edward Herbert (1583-1648), later 1st Baron Cherbury, and Sir Thomas Lucy (1584-1640), at Charlecote Park (National Trust) for which there is very plausible documentary evidence attesting to Larkin's authorship in the form of a reference in Lord Herbert of Cherbury's autobiography (The Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury Written by Himself, ed. J.M. Shuttleworth, London, 1976, pp. 60-1; R. Strong, William Larkin, Icons of Splendour, Milan, 1995, pp. 58-62, nos. 1 and 2).
This portrait can be compared stylistically to the celebrated series of nine full-length portraits, of which seven are of women, originally in the collection of the Earls of Suffolk, which Sir Roy Strong first identified with the work of William Larkin, together with other portraits similar to them, in his groundbreaking work The English Icon (London, 1969). This attribution was later supported by technical analysis of the pictures by Sarah Cove which concluded that the Suffolk series and the portrait of Lord Herbert at Charlecote were likely to be by the same artist and his studio (The Materials and Techniques of Paintings attributed to William Larkin 1610-20, Dip. Conservation of of Paintings, Courtauld Institute, 1985). This association is the focus of a paper by Sarah Cove on Larkin's materials and techniques which will be published in the forthcoming catalogue of the Suffolk collection at Kenwood House.
The Suffolk series of portraits originally hung at Charlton House in Wiltshire, built by the ambitious Catherine Knyvett, Countess of Suffolk, during the opening decade of King James I's reign (they are now at Kenwood, English Heritage). It has been suggested that the series of female portraits within the group may have been commissioned by either her, or her second son Thomas Howard (c. 1590-1669), later Earl of Berkshire, to celebrate the union of the Howard and Cecil dynasties through Thomas Howard's marriage to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, later 2nd Earl of Exeter, in 1614. In this portrait Lady Thornagh's fashionable low cut bodice, pale yellow lace collar and the red and blue mantle draped over her left shoulder, is very close to the costume worn by Lady Isabella Rich, in the celebrated full-length portrait of her in the Suffolk series (R. Strong, Larkin, Icons of Splendour, Milan, 1995, no. 23; see fig. 1). A similar costume is also worn by an unknown Lady of the Sharp family, of Horton Old Hall, Bradford, in another full-length portrait attributed to Larkin by Strong (ibid., no. 26).
One of the principal unifying features of the Suffolk series are the looped silk curtains which frame the sitter in each portrait. As Strong observes, this drapery 'although of differing colours, could be absolutely identical down even to the same folds' (Strong, op. cit., p. 20). In the present portrait the handling of the folds of the curtains is very reminiscent of some of those in the Suffolk series. The folds in the drapery to the left of her are almost identical for example to those in the drapery to the left of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, in the full-length of him that is among the finest of the Suffolk series (Strong, op.cit., pp. 78-9, no. 15; see fig. 2). The drapery is also nearly identical in areas to that in two other portraits which Strong attributed to Larkin, those of Anne Sackville, Lady Seymour (National Trust, Petworth; Strong, op.cit., no. 35) and the three-quarter-length portrait of Catherine Trentham, Lady Stanhope (whereabouts unknown; Strong, op.cit., no. 28).
The distinctive group of portraits attributed to Larkin, which are in an exaggerated two-dimensional style akin to miniature painting on a grand scale, are remarkable for what Ellis Waterhouse described as their 'enamelled brilliance'; a unique style of portraiture within Western Europe of the late Renaissance. They reflect the survival in England of an aesthetic that was still essentially Medieval but which, as Strong observed, was 'within the mainstream bias of British art, which has always been attracted to flat two-dimensional pattern'. As David Piper commented in an article on the Suffolk portraits these 'have a strange and fascinating splendour' and 'in them, as nowhere else in Europe, the conception, of court portraiture formulated in the Tudor, Valois and Hapsburg Courts in England, France, Flanders and Spain in the mid-sixteenth century, is pushed to an extreme' (D. Piper, 'Some Portraits by Marcus Gheeraerdts II and John de Critz reconsidered', Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, XX, no. 2, 1960, pp. 210-29).