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Specified lots (sold and unsold) marked with a fil… Read more ROBERT PEAKE'S PORTRAIT OF CECILIA NEVILLE

Portrait of Cecilia Neville (b.c.1604), full-length, in an arcadian landscape

Portrait of Cecilia Neville (b.c.1604), full-length, in an arcadian landscape
oil on canvas
83 x 47 in. (211.8 x 119.4 cm.)
By descent at Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire to the following,
George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex (1757-1839), until 1810, when sold with the house to the following,
Richard Arkwright (1755-1843), Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire, and by descent until 1912, when sold with the house to the following,
Mrs Nancy Burrell, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire; her sale, Knight, Frank and Rutley, on the premises, 15 March 1925, lot 550.
Vesey Grange, Sutton Coldfield; Slater, Dann & Co, on the premises, 28 September 1960, lot 239.
Mr Southall, Grimshaw Hall, Knowle; Christie's, South Kensington, 8 March 2000, lot 283, as 'Attributed to Robert Peake', with a later inscription lower right.
with The Weiss Gallery, London, April 2001, where acquired by the present owner.
'Paintings At Hampton Court, co. Hereford', The Gentleman's Magazine, XCV, July 1825, p. 20.
J. Sherwood, ‘Baby Grand’, World of Interiors, March 2002, p. 135, illustrated in Jasper Conran's London home.
J. Conran, Country, London, 2010, p. 92-93, illustrated at Walpole House, Chiswick.
W. Norwich, Interiors: The Greatest Rooms of the Century, London, 2019, illustrated p. 113.
S. Lubell, Life Meets Art: Inside the Homes of the Worlds Most Creative People, London 2020, p. 69, 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: 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.

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Benedict Winter
Benedict Winter Associate Director, Specialist

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Lot Essay

Robert Peake was one of the most outstanding portrait painters at the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts and was favoured in particular by King James I's eldest, but short-lived son and heir Henry, Prince of Wales, of whom he executed several portraits. The choice of Peake to paint such a significant commission as the present work was therefore unsurprising. The importance of dynastic display through familial portraiture had grown stronger during Elizabeth’s reign, giving rise to the country house portrait gallery and the subsequent phenomenon of the Long Gallery. Here portraits of husbands and wives, their relations and children, the royal family and the most influential people of the day gazed down from the walls, cementing the exalted social standing of the family to whom they belonged. Peake’s magnificent representation of Cecilia Neville, with her quiet grace and elegance, would have been a jewel in just such a collection.

Cecilia, one of the great beauties of the Jacobean court, was the daughter of Henry Neville, de facto 9th and de jure 2nd Baron Bergavenny and his first wife Lady Mary Sackville, daughter of Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset. Through her father, a descendent of John of Gaunt, Cecilia was in fact related to the English royal line who so favoured Peake as an artist. Although Henry Neville was officially a member of the Church of England, it is believed that he was actually a Roman Catholic, and Cecilia’s mother, Mary, was a fervent Catholic, who educated her children in the old faith. Indeed, Cecilia’s sister Mary became a Benedictine nun at a convent in Ghent and was later abbess of the English Benedictines of Pontoise. Cecilia was thus an unusual woman, both belonging to a distinguished aristocratic line and touched by the religious rebellion of her family. The association with recusant families did not affect her eligibility, and in July 1617 she married Fitzwilliam Coningsby, son of Sir Thomas Coningsby of Hampton Court Castle in Herefordshire (fig. 1). Coningsby went on to become MP for Herefordshire and High-Sheriff of the county. They had five children born between 1621 and 1629, and their grandson Thomas became 1st Earl Coningsby in 1719.

A staunch Royalist, Fitzwilliam Coningsby commanded a regiment of foot during the Civil War, with disastrous results for his family. Partly as a result of his infighting with Sir John Scudamore, another Herefordshire worthy, Hereford was lost to a small Parliamentarian force in 1643. The following year Cecilia was forced to write the following letter to Sir John’s cousin William: ‘Worthy Sir, I have sent you by your servant 15 pounds in part of your years rent, being very sorry I have not more to send, for a very small summ I have left my selfe, if Mr. Conningsby were returned I hope for more but I know not whether he be gon with the King, or not. God send me good newes of him (13 June 1644). No good news was forthcoming and, with her husband away fighting, she slipped further into poverty. In 1646 Fitzwilliam protested the surrender of the Royalist army at the siege of Worcester and was forced into exile; his estates were confiscated and despite his petitions and protestations it was not until the Restoration of Charles II that the family fortune was recovered and Hampton Court Castle was returned to them.

The present portrait was most likely executed shortly after the sitter's marriage in circa 1617-1618, making her around seventeen years old. Here she stands sumptuously dressed in a sylvan landscape. With her proper right hand she reaches out to grasp a sapling branch of the sycamore beside her, symbolic of the future growth of the Coningsby family tree through her union with Fitzwilliam. The fact that she wears her hair up is also suggestive of the fact that she is shown here as a married woman. Traditionally, long, lose hair was a symbol of virginity; a portrait miniature of Cecilia of circa 1615 by the young John Hoskins shows her with her hair cascading over her shoulder and can be contrasted to the carefully coiffed head in Peake’s image (fig. 2; Oxford, The Ashmolean, inv. no. WA1936.101).
Cecilia is shown here in a very low necked waistcoat, with three-quarter length sleeves edged in elaborate bobbin lace. Although Queen Anne retained the fashion for large wheel farthingales at court into the 1620s, the drape of the skirt here shows Cecilia has abandoned this. Both the waistcoat and skirt are made of cloth of sliver, a costly and highly fashionable choice, embroidered with a repeating pattern of blue ovoid panels, decorated with carnations, a flower that symbolised motherly love, as they were supposed to have sprung from the ground where the Virgin’s tears fell as Christ died. It is possible that the blue is a later colour choice laid over a paler original, as it is not common in painting of this period. Over this she wears a mantle of red velvet, sometimes called an ‘Irish mantle’, embroidered in gilt and silver-gilt thread with a pattern of flowers. The outfit is completed with a second pseudo-mantle of black velvet more heavily embroidered in gilt and silver-gilt threads and edged with silver-gilt lace. This is worn much as men wore favours in a joust, tied to her upper left arm. The great swathes of intricately embroidered fabrics and the silver cloth would have shimmered as she moved: an unmissable statement of her wealth and status.

This fashionable, informal dress is likely to have been worn at a masque; the décolleté nature of the waistcoat would have been too risqué for other contexts. This suggestion is further supported by the inclusion of a mask and gloves at her feet. Masques, hugely popular and extravagant courtly entertainments, were put on by actors with the participation of the ladies and gentlemen of the court. Most famously, Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones collaborated to produce the performances held at Whitehall and Hampton Court Palace. The most important masque produced by the pair at the same time as the present portrait was Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, a mythological romp in which Hercules is forced to choose between duty and pleasure. One of the audience, Orazio Busino, chaplain to the Venetian ambassador in London, complained about the bare-breasted costumes of some of the female masquers, which would have been very similar in design to Cecilia’s dress (M. Leapman, Inigo: The Troubled Life of Inigo Jones, Architect of the English Renaissance, London, 2003, p. 180). Similarly to Peake’s portrait of Lady Elizabeth Pope (fig. 3; London, Tate Britain, inv. no. T00067), the conception of Cecilia’s outfit borrows elements of Jones’ designs (fig. 4). On account of the ostrich feather in her hair, it has been suggested that Elizabeth is depicted in the guise of The Continent of America. Cecilia’s dress is more generic, she is likely to be one of the ladies who would appear on stage at the end of the performance to join the actors in the final dance.

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

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