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Venetian School, circa 1512/13
Venetian School, circa 1512/13

Portrait of Robert Langton (1470-1524), half-length, in black robes and cap, holding a pilgrim staff in his left hand, from which is suspended a pilgrim hat with badges, and a book in his right, behind a parapet

Details
Venetian School, circa 1512/13
Portrait of Robert Langton (1470-1524), half-length, in black robes and cap, holding a pilgrim staff in his left hand, from which is suspended a pilgrim hat with badges, and a book in his right, behind a parapet
with inscription ‘Robertus • Langton • [Lett] doctor: et r:’ (upper right)
oil on canvas, laid down on panel
34¼ x 27¾ in. (87 x 70.5 cm.)
Provenance
Chaworth family, Annesley Hall, Nottinghamshire (according to J. Thompson, loc. cit.).
The Congregational Memorial Hall Trust.
Literature
J. Thompson, ‘Portrait of Dr. Robert Langton’, Notes and Queries, second series, VI, 30 October 1858, pp. 347-8.
E.M. Blackie, The Pilgrimage of Robert Langton transcribed with an introduction and notes, Cambridge, 1924, pp. ix-x.
H. Summerson, ‘Langton, Robert’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online.

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Lot Essay

Executed in Venice in circa 1512-13, this portrait of the ecclesiastic and pilgrim Robert Langton constitutes the earliest ad vivum portrait of an English sitter painted in Italy by an Italian artist. It accords in every detail with Thompson’s description in Notes and Queries (1858) of a portrait of Langton: ‘I have lately seen a picture, evidently ancient, representing an elderly man, with white flowing beard, moustache, and hair; the features of a pronounced character, the nose being long and aquiline, and the eyes piercing’. Blackie, in his introduction to The Pilgrimage of Robert Langton, suggested: ‘it may be supposed that the picture no longer exists’ (op. cit.); while Summerson stated that: ‘the picture…is not otherwise recorded’ (op. cit.).

The sitter was the nephew of Thomas Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, and a cousin of Christopher Bainbridge, cardinal and archbishop of York, who licensed him to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Rome and other holy sites, in October 1511. Langton’s extensive pilgrimage between 1511 and 1514 is documented in a book that he published on his return to England entitled The pylgrymage of M. Robert Langton clerke to Seynt James in Compostell and in other holy places of Crystendome (1522). Only one copy of the original is known to survive, in Lincoln Cathedral Library, however a modern edition was published by Blackie in 1924. The account includes a detailed itinerary of the places visited, in chronological order, making it possible to trace Langton’s passage through France to Spain, and back through France to Italy, entering by Mount Cenis and journeying to Milan and Venice, before venturing south as far as Naples and returning via Venice, before travelling through Flanders to England.

This portrait may have been commissioned on Langton’s arrival in Venice and collected on his return visit. Antonio Mazzotta has observed that the treatment of the gloves and the psychology of the face in this portrait reveal affinities with contemporary portraits by Titian, making it likely that if not actually painted by him, this picture was certainly executed by an artist working in his immediate circle in Venice. The current condition of the picture however precludes any definitive assessment.

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