Sir John Shurley of Isfield (1565–1632)

British Painter (dated 1588)
Oil on wood
35 3/4 x 29 3/8 in. (90.8 x 74.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Kate T. Davison, in memory of her husband, Henry Pomeroy Davison, 1951
Accession Number:
Not on view
The sitter holds a baton and wears a sword and etched Italian armor that is typical for the period. Under his helmet is what looks like an initial H with a small tail. In 1952 Ellis Waterhouse suggested that this might be a signature, and ten years later Roy Strong proposed that it could be the monogram of the elusive Elizabethan portraitist Hubbard. Strong felt that the MMA portrait must be by the same hand as a half-length of Sir Walter Ralegh in the National Portrait Gallery, London, which seems probable.

According to John Bernard Burke, writing in 1854, portraits of Sir Anthony Shirley and Sir Robert Shirley were at Felix Hall, Kelvedon, Essex, a residence of the Western family. Anthony and Robert were brothers, the second and third sons of Sir Thomas Shirley of Wiston, Sussex. Seemingly, the present painting was the one exhibited in 1866 as Sir Anthony Shirley. In 1873 E. P. Shirley instead identified the Museum's sitter as Sir John Shurley of Isfield, Sussex, who married Sir Anthony’s sister Jane. (Both Sir Anthony of Wiston and Sir John of Isfield were born in 1565.) In 1979 A. V. B. Norman asserted that the sitter was not Sir John of Isfield and, based on the arms, suggested that he belonged to the branch of the family that included Sir George Shurley, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Ireland, in 1620.

Clive Cheesman provided the following clarifications (email of 2008). The Shirley, or Sherley, families (the spellings were more or less interchangeable) used arms such as these, except that the stripes were vertical rather than diagonal. In the sixteenth century, the Shurleys of Isfield were allowed arms closer to those of the Wiston Shirleys. Further, Sir George Shurley (died 1634) was the brother of Sir John of Isfield. Based on the arms, Sir John Shurley is the more likely candidate.

However, the identification of the sitter as Anthony Shirley also has some merit. His father was appointed treasurer-at-war by Queen Elizabeth in 1587, and in 1588 Anthony Shirley was doubtless at court, and is more likely to have been painted by the same artist as the adventurer and courtier Sir Walter Ralegh. While in Prague, early in the seventeenth century, Anthony Shirley sat for a portrait thought to have been engraved by Aegidius Sadeler. The sitter in that work (National Portrait Gallery, London) shows some resemblance to the one here, but on balance the more likely identification on historical and genealogical grounds is with Sir John Shurley of Isfield, Sussex.

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Inscription: Dated and inscribed: (upper right) ÆTATIS SVÆ 23 / ANo 1588; (lower right) H
by descent to Charles Callis Western, Lord Western, Felix Hall, Kelvedon, Essex (by 1841–d. 1844); Sir Thomas Burch Western, 1st Baronet, Felix Hall (1844–d. 1873); Sir Thomas Sutton Western, 2nd Baronet, Felix Hall (1873–d. 1877); Sir Thomas Charles Callis Western, 3rd Baronet, Felix Hall (1877–1913; his sale, Christie's, London, June 13, 1913, no. 100, as "Portrait of Sir Anthony Sherley," by F. Zucchero, for £115.10.0 to Knoedler); [Knoedler, New York, and Colnaghi, London, 1913–24, as Sir John Sherley; half-share traded back in 1916 to Colnaghi]; [Colnaghi, London, from 1924]; Mrs. Henry Pomeroy (Kate T.) Davison, New York (by 1936–51)
London. South Kensington Museum. "National Portraits," April 1866, no. 290 (as "Sir Anthony Shirley, Kt.," by an unknown painter, lent by Sir Thomas B. Western, possibly this work).

E. P. Shirley. Stemmata Shirleiana; or the Annals of the Shirley Family. London, 1841, pp. 213–14 [2nd ed., 1873, p. 278], identifies the sitter as Sir John Shurley of Isfield, who married Sir Anthony Shirley's sister Jane, "on which occasion it was painted".

John Bernard Burke. A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland. London, 1854, 2nd ser., vol. 1, p. 31, as a portrait of Sir Anthony Shirley, ambassador from Persia in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Bernard Burke. The General Armory. London, 1883, p. 924, Shirley, or Sherley [Isfield, co. Sussex; extinct]. Arms, granted temp. Henry VIII. Paly of four az. and gu. three stags' heads couped ar. on a fess wavy or, three cornish choughs ppr.; but the family afterwards assumed and were allowed in the Visitations, Paly bendy of eight ar. and az. a canton erm.

Sidney Lee in Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 18, New York, 1909, p. 123, as in the collection of Sir Thomas Western, Rivenhall, Essex; states that although it is usually called a portrait of Sir Anthony Shirley it is actually a portrait of his brother-in-law, Sir John Shurley.

Ellis Waterhouse. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. May 7, 1952, calls the attribution to Zuccaro quite impossible, observes that the idea that the "hieroglyph" below the helmet may in fact be a signature should not be disregarded, imagines the painter to be of Flemish origin.

John Guinness. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. January 14, 1957, provides 1632 as the death date for Sir John Shurley of Isfield.

David Piper. Letter to Mrs. H. D. Allen. February 5, 1957, believes that it is definitely by the same hand as a portrait of Admiral Cavendish at Longleat.

Roy Strong. Letters to Elizabeth Gardner. 1962–63, considers it likely that "the H monogram stands for Hubbard, one of the most fashionable and the most elusive of Elizabethan portraitists," and that it is by the same hand as a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

John Sunderland. Letter. October 4, 1967, reports that Mr. Norman of the Wallace Collection identifies the armor as Italian and states that the artist is unlikely to be Zucchero.

Roy Strong. Tudor & Jacobean Portraits. London, 1969, vol. 1, p. 256, observes that our portrait is signed H and attributes it and one of Sir Walter Raleigh in the National Portrait Gallery, London (vol. 2, pl. 505) to the "monogrammist H (? Hubbard)," a fashionable painter active in the eighties but now entirely unknown.

A. V. B. Norman. Letter to Stuart Pyhrr. May 11, 1979, based on the coat of arms, believes that the sitter is probably not John Shurley of Isfield, but rather an unidentified member of the Shurley family.

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 4–6, no. 2, ill. (color), identifies the sitter as Sir John Shurley of Isfield.

Donald J. La Rocca. How to Read European Armor. New York, 2017, p.45, fig.52, Citation added, S. Martz, 2.20.18.