John Singleton Copley, The Red Cross Knight, 1793
From the National Gallery of Art:
This idyllic scene illustrates an episode from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, published in 1590. The lengthy Elizabethan poem concerns a Christian soldier’s search for Truth. Early in his quest, the knight encounters two lovely personifications of virtue. Faith, gowned in purest white and surrounded by a halo of divine light, holds a chalice with a serpent she need not fear. Hope, garbed in heavenly blue, carries a small anchor that recalls the biblical mention of hope “as an anchor of the soul.” To quote Spenser, the Red Cross Knight himself wears “on his brest a bloudie Crosse.”
The models were the artist’s own handsome children, now seventeen years older than when they posed for The Copley Family. John, the boy hugging his mother in that painting, is the Red Cross Knight. Elizabeth, the daughter standing in the center of the family portrait, is Faith, and Mary, the infant on the sofa, is Hope. The Red Cross Knight, Copley’s only painting inspired by literature, was shown at the Royal Academy in 1793.
John Singleton Copley, Portrait of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales at a Review, 1809
From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:
John Singleton Copley undertook this monumental portrait of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, in 1804, without a commission, hoping it would secure him future royal patronage. The artist was in his mid-sixties and entering a final, tumultuous phase of his life and career. His recent contributions to annual exhibitions had been met with mixed reviews, and he remained locked in battle with his artistic peers over the management and policies of the Royal Academy, which he felt had been manipulated to his disadvantage. Such concerns were not purely theoretical, as Copley faced real economic difficulties in these years, anxiously jumping from one project to another in an attempt to bolster his finances and secure his fame.
With just such an objective, around 1804 Copley presented a sketch for a proposed equestrian portrait to the Prince of Wales, who then promised to sit for him. Scheduling proved difficult, and the prince was not available to pose until 1808. In April of 1809, as the deadline for submission to the annual academy exhibition approached, the portrait was still unfinished. Copley requested an extension in the name of the prince, but his appeal was promptly denied, further alienating Copley from his fellow academicians. In August 1809, nearly five years after first conceiving of the portrait, Copley finally declared the work complete.
Rogier van der Weyden, Francesco d’Este, c. 1460
From the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:
The sitter for this striking portrait is Francesco d’Este, illegitimate son of Leonello d’Este, ruler of Ferrara. In 1444, Francesco was sent to the Netherlands, where he received his education and military training at the court of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. He was educated with Philip’s son, Charles de Charlerois (later Charles the Bold), and became a permanent chamberlain to the duke, acting frequently as an envoy to Italy. This portrait was painted in the Netherlands about 1460, when Francesco was around thirty years old. The hammer and ring he holds may be prizes won for a jousting victory, or symbols of his office and power. On the verso of the panel are painted the splendid coat of arms and crest of the Este family, quartered with the honor bestowed on the house of Este in 1432 by Charles VII of France. Above and below the armorials is the inscription, which reads, in part: “entirely yours, marquis of Este, Francesco.” This apparent dedication suggests that the portrait was not kept by the sitter but was presented by him to a close acquaintance or member of the court as a gift of friendship. The portrait was painted by Rogier van der Weyden, who undertook a number of portrait commissions for members of the Burgundian court, while the verso was probably painted by a workshop assistant.
Rogier van der Weyden, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1460
From the National Gallery of Art:
This painting is an outstanding example of the abstract elegance characteristic of Rogier’s late portraits. Although the identity of the sitter is unknown, her air of self–conscious dignity suggests that she is a member of the nobility. Her costume and severly plucked eyebrows and hairline are typical of those favored by highly placed ladies of the Burgundian court.
The stylish costume does not distract attention from the sitter. The dress, with its dark bands of fur, almost merges with the background. The spreading headdress frames and focuses attention upon her face. Light falls with exquisite beauty along the creases of the sheer veiling over her head, and gentle shadows mark her fine bone structure. In contrast to the spareness of execution in most of the painting, the gold filigree of her belt buckle is rendered with meticulous precision. The scarlet belt serves as a foil to set off her delicately clasped hands.
Rogier excelled as a portrait painter because he so vividly presented the character of the persons he portrayed. The downcast eyes, the firmly set lips, and the tense fingers reflect this woman’s mental concentration. Rogier juxtaposed the strong sensation of the sitter’s acute mental activity to his rigid control of the composition and the formality of her costume and pose, presenting the viewer with an image of passionate austerity.
Happy Birthday to Jasper Johns, who will be a major part of our Dancing Around the Bride show this October.
Image: Dancers on a Plane, 1979. Jasper Johns, American, b. 1930. Oil on canvas with objects, 77 7/8 x 64 inches (197.8 x 162.6 cm). Collection of the artist. © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY