Portrait of Walter Devereux (1539–1576), First Earl of Essex

British Painter British

Not on view

Walter Devereux succeeded his grandfather as Viscount Hereford and Lord Ferrers in 1558. He was joint custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1568. The following year, he helped put down the Northern Rising and was appointed marshal of the army at Leicester. He was lord lieutenant of County Stafford from 1569 until his death. Faithful to Queen Elizabeth I, Devereux was installed as a Knight of the Garter in 1572, and created Earl of Essex the same year. He sailed for Ireland in the summer of 1573 in an attempt to colonize Ulster, a costly venture that ended in failure in the summer of 1575. The earl died in Dublin in 1576 and was succeeded by his son Robert, a royal favorite who was executed in 1601 after attempting to raise a rebellion.

This work is among numerous Elizabethan portraits formerly attributed to Federico Zuccaro, who was in London for only six months, from March to August 1575; no paintings from the Italian artist’s brief stay in England are known to survive. In 1962 David Piper suggested that the painting might be by George Gower (1540–1596), and in 1965 Roy Strong agreed, but the evidence is so limited that it is difficult to judge [verbal opinions recorded in department files].

The present portrait is one of a number that commemorated the sitter’s rise to power in 1572. It was apparently modeled on a portrait of William Herbert, created Baron Herbert of Cardiff and Earl of Pembroke in 1551, who died in 1570 (Amgueddfa Cymru—National Museum Wales, Cardiff). A version of the MMA portrait is at the Mansion House, Ipswich; others were in the collections of Earl Amherst (sold, Sotheby's, London, January 29, 1964, no. 1) and Lord Bagot (sold, Sotheby's, London, July 26, 1967, no. 172). A variant of higher quality (National Portrait Gallery, London) differs in that the sitter’s hair is close-cropped, and he extends a baton. A coarser version of the London portrait belongs to the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

While the face and hands are somewhat worn, the painting is in generally good state, with some losses where the three boards that make up the work are joined vertically.

Portrait of Walter Devereux (1539–1576), First Earl of Essex, British Painter (British), Oil on wood, British

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