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Specified lots (sold and unsold) marked with a fil… Read more 'RIEN M'ESTONE' - ANTHONY MARIA BROWNE

Portrait of Anthony Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu (1574-1629), full-length, in an allegorical landscape

Portrait of Anthony Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu (1574-1629), full-length, in an allegorical landscape
oil on canvas
73 x 42 in. (186.7 x 106.8 cm.)
inscribed 'Rien m'estone' (upper right)
The Montagu family, and by descent at Battle Abbey to the following,
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 11 June 1999, lot 5, as 'Circle of Marcus Gheeraedts the Younger'.
with Christopher Gibbs, London, by October 2001, from whom acquired by the present owner.
J. Sherwood, ‘Baby Grand’, World of Interiors, March 2002, p. 135, illustrated in Jasper Conran’s London home.
J. Conran, Country, London, 2010, p. 97, illustrated at Walpole House, Chiswick.
R. Strong, The Elizabethan Image: An Introduction to English Portraiture 1558 to 1603, New Haven and London, 2019, pp. 140-142, figs. 139 and 140.
R. Guilding, ‘Jasper Wares’, World of Interiors, April 2021, p. 154, illustrated.
Special notice

Specified lots (sold and unsold) marked with a filled square not collected from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London SW1Y 6QT by 5.00pm on the day of the sale will, at our option, be removed to Crozier Park Royal (details below). Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. If the lot is transferred to Crozier Park Royal, it will be available for collection on the third business day after the sale. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crozier Park Royal. All collections from Crozier Park Royal will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: cscollectionsuk@christies.com. If the lot remains at Christie’s, 8 King Street, it will be available for collection on any working day (not weekends) from 9.00am to 5.00pm
Sale room notice
Please note this lot will remain at Christie's King Street post-sale.

Brought to you by

Benedict Winter
Benedict Winter Associate Director, Specialist

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Lot Essay

This wonderful example of symbolically rich Tudor portraiture has recently been identified as a depiction of Sir Anthony Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu by Sir Roy Strong (op. cit. p. 141). Where the allegorical and symbolic elements had previously puzzled art historians, seen through the lens of the Browne family history these enigmatic details can be deciphered.

Anthony Maria inherited the Montagu title from his grandfather, Sir Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu (1528-1592), as the latter’s son narrowly predeceased him. Sir Anthony had been a staunch catholic; and his chaplain, Dr Alban Langdale, educated his grandson in the old faith, to which Anthony Maria would stay true his whole life. Despite their religious persuasion, both grandfather and grandson remained loyal to the Crown, though they fought for the rights of Catholics to be upheld. Indeed, Anthony Maria was imprisoned twice: initially in 1604, when he spoke out in the House of Lords against a bill that classed Catholics alongside forgers, perjurers and outlaws; and then in 1605, after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, when he was sent to the Tower along with two other Catholic Peers, Lords Mordaunt and Stewart, for their suspected involvement. As there was no evidence of this, (though Guy Fawkes had at one point been employed by Browne at his seat Cowdray House), the men were released; Anthony Maria into the charge of his father-in-law, Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset and Lord High Treasurer, whose daughter, Jane, he had married in 1591.

The present portrait can be dated to circa 1593, shortly after Anthony Maria’s succession to the title. He is shown as a young man in mourning for his grandfather and father, symbolised by both his black clothing and also by the stump against which he leans – the family tree that has been all but cut down, though one young leafy branch remains. As with much Elizabethan portraiture, the different elements can be broken down and explained in various ways. The black garb is not just to be seen as fashionably melancholic or appropriate mourning attire, but in conjunction with the white as a sign of continued loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, whose colours these were. The snake who slithers at his feet can also be understood to have a dual meaning; though the obvious one is the fall and suffering of man, and through this the consistent state of melancholy in which he lives, it can also be understood as a symbol of understanding. In 1593, Cesare Ripa’s hugely influential Iconologia was first published (in its unillustrated form), in which it explained that ‘in order to understand high and sublime things we must first go to earth, as does the serpent’.

The shipwrecks and fires taking place in the background can again be understood in differing ways – the most tantalising of which being in direct relation to the Browne family. In 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII had confiscated Battle Abbey from the Church. Two years later, he grated the property to Sir Anthony Browne, K.G., (1500-1548) Master of the Horse and Chief Standard Bearer of England, great-grandfather to Anthony Maria. In the midst of his first feast in the former Abbot’s hall, a monk burst in and cursed Sir Anthony for his sacrilegious acceptance of monastic property, saying ‘by fire and water thy line shall come to an end, and it shall perish out of the land.’ (Quoted in J. Gillow, A literary and biographical history of the English Catholics from the breach with Rome, in 1534, to the present time, London and New York, 1902, V, p. 82.) In the family folklore, this curse finally played out in September 1793, when Cowdray House burnt down, less than two weeks later George Browne, 8th Viscount Montagu drowned while trying to ride the Falls of the Rhine. He was succeeded by a descendant of Anthony Maria’s brother John, Mark Browne, who died childless, bringing the title to an end. One of only three pictures to be saved from the fire at Cowdray was the only other portrait of Anthony-Maria, depicted with his brothers John and William, by Isaac Oliver, this is now in the collection at Burghley House (fig. 1).

As well as seeing them in light of the family curse, it would also be possible to understand the shipwrecks and fires as the tribulations of a Catholic family in Elizabethan England, or perhaps as the necessary trials of a young man – Browne would only have been about eighteen when the portrait was painted - taking on the weight of family responsibility, and finally, perhaps as the universal plight of man in an unforgiving world. All of these elements come together in the motto ‘Rien m’estone’, ‘Nothing bothers me’ or 'Nothing surprises me', written in the dark clouds to the top right. This is a portrait of a man prepared for all that life might throw at him and an excellent example of the Tudor approach to portraiture, which valued likeness and symbolism equally.

We are grateful to Karen Hearn for her help in the cataloguing of the present painting.

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