A rare, early example of an English, full-length double portrait, this impressive panel was painted c. 1603-1604 to commemorate the marriage of Sir Reginald Mohun to his third wife, Dorothy, daughter of John Chudleigh (1565-1589) of Ashton, Devon, and sister of Sir George Chudleigh, first Baronet (d. 1658). The sitters are identifiable by the crest at upper center, representing the Mohun family (a cross-engrailed Sable) on the left, and Chudleigh (Ermine three lions rampant gules) on the right. Sir Reginald affectionately links his right arm with his new bride's while proudly resting his left hand on the hilt of his sword. As a feminine counterpart to this attribute of masculine authority, Lady Mohun holds a delicate pink (a symbol of marriage) between her long, tapered fingers--considered a mark of beauty in Elizabethan England. The couple's lofty stature is accentuated by the painting's vertical format and the cut of their garments, richly embellished with such details as the embroidered gold geometric pattern on Sir Reginald's jerkin and the abundance of pearls--exorbitantly costly and emblematic of virginity--worn by his bride. Gold stitching and lace rosettes secured with precious stones add a further note of splendor to Lady Mohun's attire, as does the mirror suspended from her stomacher by means of an enameled chain. Enamels also adorn the pendant that hangs from her sleeve and features a leaping hart with the motto 'UNA SALUS' (salvation/hope alone). Lady Mohun's headdress is like that worn by Anne of Denmark (1575-1619) around this date.
The Mohun family was established in England at the Conquest, when Sir William Mohun (d. after 1090) was rewarded for services rendered at the battle of Hastings with the castle of Dunster, fifty manors in Somerset and lordships in Wiltshire, Devonshire and Warwickshire. The name Mohun relates to the family's seat before the Conquest, at Moion, near St. Lo in Normandy. Sir Reginald was the son and heir of Sir William Mohun (d. 1587), of Hall and Boconnoc, Cornwall, and his first wife Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Horsey. An affluent West Country magnate, Reginald succeeded his father in 1587 at the age of twenty-three. His parliamentary career spanned several decades: he was elected to the Commons at various times between 1584 and 1625, representing seats under family control such as East Looe and Fowey. He was knighted by Elizabeth I in 1599, and became one of the first baronets created by James I in 1611.
The portrait is likely to have hung at the family seat of Boconnoc, near Lostwithiel. The 1838 Christie's sale catalogue of the collection of the Rt. Hon. Lord Northwick described the painting as "two portraits, large as life, upon panel; supposed to represent Sir Reginald Mohun, and Lady, (the arms being of that ancient family), and which, from the dress of the parties, appears to have been painted about the time of Elizabeth; we are unable to give any further account of this most curious painting, than that it formerly belonged to Mr. Gilbert, historian of the County of Cornwall, and was previously in Sir John Trelawny's possession." Mohun's daughter Elizabeth (b. 1593), by his second wife Philippa, married Sir John Trelawny of Trelawny, another West Country magnate; their son, as well as subsequent heirs, was also called Sir John. The Cornish historian referred to in the Christie's sale was likely Charles Sandoe Gilbert (1760-1831), who published a Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall between 1817 and 1820. It is not known exactly when Gilbert bought the picture, but it was almost certainly included in a sale of his possessions following his bankruptcy in 1825. It must have been at that time that Lord Northwick, one of the most famous and discerning collectors of the 19th century, acquired the painting.