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Portrait of Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford KB (1593-1625), full-length, in a purple suit, with his wand of office leaning against a table

Portrait of Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford KB (1593-1625), full-length, in a purple suit, with his wand of office leaning against a table
oil on canvas
83 x 61 5⁄8 in. (210.7 x 156.5 cm.)
with identifying inscription 'Vere. / Earl of Oxford' (lower left)
(Possibly) Lady Susan de Vere (1587-1629), the sitter’s sister and wife of William Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke (1584-1650), Wilton House, Wiltshire, and by descent at Wilton until 1685 when sold at auction following the death of Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of Pembroke, and where possibly acquired by the following,
Admiral Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford (1657-1627), and by inheritance to his great-niece,
Letitia Tipping (1699-1779), wife of Samuel Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys (1695-1770), and by descent to their son,
Edwin Sandys, 2nd Baron Sandys (1726-1797), and by inheritance to his niece,
Mary, Marchioness of Downshire and 1st Baroness Sandys (1764-1836), and by descent to her second son,
Lieutenant-General Arthur Hill, 2nd Baron Sandys (1792-1860), and by inheritance to his younger brother,
Arthur Marcus Sandys, 3rd Baron Sandys (1798-1863), and by descent to,
Richard Hill, 7th Baron Sandys (1931-2013), Ombersley Court, Worcestershire.
(Probably) An Inventory and Valuation of the pictures at the house in Hanover Square, taken 5th November 1801 by Mr Wm Comyns, Ombersley MS., no. 52, as 'A Lord Chamberlain to Charles I Vandyke'.
J. Grego, Inventory of Pictures: Portraits, Paintings, etc., Ombersley MS., 1905, where listed in the Great Hall.
ONM / 1 / 2 / 7, journal entry for a visit to Ombersley Court, 25 August 1950, Oliver Millar Archive, Paul Mellon Centre, London, p. 19.
A. Oswald, 'Ombersley Court, Worcestershire - I', Country Life, 2 January 1953, p. 34, pl. 2, where shown hanging in the Entrance Hall.
Ombersley Court Inventory, June 1963, annotated Ombersley MS., where listed in the Grand Hall.
O. Millar, Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the Royal Collection, London, 1963, I, p. 92, under no. 139.
Ombersley Court Catalogue of Pictures, undated, Ombersley MS., p. 8, as 'School of Van Dyck', where listed in the Central Hall.

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Adrian Hume-Sayer
Adrian Hume-Sayer Director, Specialist

Lot Essay

This commanding full-length portrait is a fine example of the artist’s work that revolutionised court portraiture in England and secured his reputation as the leading portraitist in the reigns of both King James I and Charles I before Van Dyck’s arrival in 1632. 

Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, was heir to an ancient noble line, dating back to the 12th century, when his ancestor was awarded the title of Earl of Oxford.  He was the only son of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl (1550-1604), a courtier and poet at the court of Elizabeth I who has been credited by some scholars with authorship of the plays of William Shakespeare.

Oxford was a champion of the Protestant cause during the Jacobean period and a keen supporter of James I’s brother-in-law the Elector Palatine, the short-lived King of Bohemia, during the early part of the Thirty Years’ War.  He fought in the Low Countries, and there is a print in the National Portrait Gallery of Oxford in armour on his horse, alongside the 3rd Earl of Southampton, the notable patron of Shakespeare.

As a prominent figure at James I’s court, he was created Knight of the Bath and succeeded his father as Lord Great Chamberlain, serving from 1604 to 1625 (this had been a hereditary post of the Earls of Oxford throughout the Middle Ages).  There was much rivalry among the king’s favourites at court, and Oxford engaged in a prolonged quarrel with the king’s chief favourite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, leading to his imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1622-23. 

Oxford died of fever in the Hague in early June 1625, most probably brought on by a wound he received at Terheiden while in command of a regiment in the elector palatine's service. It is a measure of Oxford’s stature that he should have earned the signal honour of being buried in Westminster Abbey. 

Born into a family of artists, Mytens trained in The Hague, possibly with Michiel van Miereveld and Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn. By 1618 he was in London and working for the Earl and Countess of Arundel, the celebrated collectors who sat to the artist for the pair of remarkable full-lengths at Arundel Castle (on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, London), arguably two of the most important portraits painted in the reign of King James I. Mytens’s position as the pre-eminent portraitist at court continued after Charles I’s accession to the throne in 1625. His full-lengths of courtiers and royalty dominated the Bear Gallery at Whitehall Palace and his self-portrait (c.1630; London, Royal Collection), a work almost certainly commissioned directly from the King himself and which hung at Whitehall alongside self-portraits by Rubens and van Dyck, further demonstrates Charles I’s regard for the Dutch artist. Mytens’s lucid sense of design, sensitivity to texture and surface, and free handling of paint brought a groundbreaking naturalism to court portraiture in England. The artist’s restrained palette, employed here to dramatic effect, is characteristic of his work and has led some scholars to draw parallels with the portraiture of Velázquez at the court of Philip IV of Spain.  

This may be one of the portraits of ‘severall Earles of Oxford’ recorded by John Aubrey in the Long Gallery at Wilton in his Natural History of Wiltshire, the manuscript of which was completed in 1691 (Aubrey’s Natural History of Wiltshire, ed. J. Britton, London, 1847, pp. 84-5). These were sold at the auction at Wilton in 1685, which followed the death of the homicidal and heavily indebted 7th Earl of Pembroke and had no doubt gone to Wilton after the succession of his grandfather, William, 4th Earl of Pembroke in 1630, who inherited the possessions of his first wife, Lady Susan de Vere, sister and co-heiress of the sitter, on her death in 1628⁄9. Many of the pictures at Ombersley had been acquired by Admiral Edward Russell, 1st Earl or Orford (1653-1727), who might have purchased the portrait at or after the 1685 sale.

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