This remarkable portrait bears inscriptions which identify the sitters as Beata, Countess of Downe, the wife of Thomas, 3rd Earl of Downe (d. 1667), of Wroxton, her son Thomas, Lord Bealturbit (1640-1668), who was later to succeed as the 4th Earl of Downe, and her daughter Beata. These inscriptions, which most probably date from the 18th century, are incorrect. In stylistic terms and on the basis of the way in which the sitters are dressed, the picture is datable to circa 1630, which makes it impossible for the sitters to be those indicated by the inscriptions--Beata Poole only married Thomas, 3rd Earl of Downe, in April 1636. It seems likely, as Sir Roy Strong suggested (op. cit.) that the portrait actually shows Beata, Countess of Downe's sister-in-law Elizabeth, wife of Sir William Pope, with her children.
Elizabeth Watson, the daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Watson of Halsted, Kent, who had invested in the settlement of Virginia, married William Pope (1596-1624), the eldest son and heir of William Pope, 1st Earl of Downe (1573-1631; for whom see the previous lot), in 1615, with whom she had three sons. Her husband, aged only twenty-seven, was to predecease his father before the latter's elevation to the peerage in 1624. In this portrait, she is presumably shown with their eldest son, Thomas (baptised in Oxford in 1622), who suceeded his grandfather as Baron Bealturbit and 2nd Earl of Downe, and one of her two daughters. Her elder daughter, Anne (baptised in 1617), married Sir Samuel Danvers, of Culworth, while her daughter Elizabeth (baptised in 1618), married George Raleigh, of Farnborough, Warwickshire. After her husband's death she married Sir Thomas Penyston of Leigh in Sussex. This portrait can be compared to the portrait of Elizabeth Pope attributed to Robert Peake (c. 1551-1619) in Tate Britain. Here she is shown elaborately dressed in a matching satin waistcoat and petticoat embroidered with flower motifs, her waistcoat with ribbon ties. The bobbin lace of her waistcoat reflects the change that occured in fashion away from needle lace, and indicates a date in the late 1620s or early 1630s, as does the tight-fitting shape of her sleeves. They stand on an early Western Anatolian carpet of a type, with stylised stars set in a green field, which is now extremely rare, known examples being that in the Bayriches Landesmuseum, Munich, and that shown in the Whitehall mural portrait of King Henry VIII known through Rememgius Leemput's copy. A carpet of this type was sold in these Rooms, 20 October 1994, lot 519.
This portrait is a striking example of what Roy Strong described as the Jacobean 'feeling for portraiture as a document', celebrating the Pope family's lineage and descent. The manner in which the Countess of Downe is shown with her right hand on her eldest son's head emphasizes that he is his father's son and heir, and the likely course of succession to the family's estates and titles. As Strong also observed, this form of portraiture 'was fast becoming an outmoded style, for the court by 1620 was responding to and patronising a new wave of foreign painters', a change that had initially been spurred by the revitalising patronage of the youthful and shortlived Henry, Prince of Wales (d. 1612). The somewhat archaic nature of the present portrait led Strong to suggest that it was likely to have been painted by Gilbert Jackson, an artist 'who continued to work in the tradition of Peake and Gheeraerts down to the brink of the civil war'. Artists such as Jackson were supported in such a conservative aesthetic by the patronage of provinical aristocracy and gentry while the court turned increasingly away from the artistic isolationism that had characterised the Elizabethan and early Jacobean era.