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Title:Ellen Maurice (1578–1626)
Artist:Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Flemish, Bruges 1561–1635/36 London)
Medium:Oil on oak
Dimensions:35 5/8 × 29 1/4 in. (90.6 × 74.2 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, Theodocia and Joseph Arkus and University Place Foundation Gifts; Gift of Victor G. Fischer, by exchange; Marquand Fund; Elizabeth and Thomas Easton Gift, in memory of their mother, Joan K. Easton; Gift of Mary Phelps Smith, in memory of her husband, Howard Caswell Smith, by exchange; and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, 2017
The Artist: Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger was the most important member of an Anglo-Flemish artistic family that had a major impact on English painting at the end of the sixteenth century. Born in Bruges, he came to England in 1568 as a small child in the company of his father, Marcus the Elder, seeking religious freedom and a haven from the repressive Spanish occupation of the Low Countries. In London, father and son joined a large community of enterprising and educated Dutch-speaking refugees. Marcus the Younger likely trained under his father or another Netherlandish artist working in England. In 1595, he married Magdalen de Critz, whose brother John was himself a successful painter with Flemish origins. (Another brother-in-law was the celebrated miniaturist Isaac Oliver.)
By the 1590s, Gheeraerts had established himself as a favored portraitist of the aristocracy; in particular, the patronage of Sir Henry Lee, the Queen’s Champion, introduced him to the culture of the court. Lee commissioned Gheeraerts’s most celebrated painting, the so-called Ditchley Portrait of Elizabeth I (National Portrait Gallery, London), in which the monarch appears standing atop a map of southern England. As in this work, many of Gheeraerts’s portraits combined poetic inscriptions with imagery drawn from court masques and spectacles. At the same time, his delicate rendering of men’s and women’s faces infused a new lyric sensitivity into English portraiture. Following the death of Elizabeth, Gheeraerts became a favored portraitist of Queen Anne, a sophisticated patron intimately linked with the court masque. By the 1620s, however, royal taste shifted to a new generation of Netherlandish painters, leaving Gheeraerts to seek out a more modest, frequently scholarly, clientele. Gheeraerts died in London at the age of seventy-four. His long and successful career bridged the achievement of Nicholas Hilliard with that of Anthony van Dyck and marked a major turning point in English portraiture.
The Sitter: Ellen (Welsh: Elin) Maurice was an heiress claiming direct descent from the ancient princes of Wales. In the sixteenth century, the Welsh gentry, unlike their Irish counterparts, largely embraced the Protestant Reformation and the ascendance of the (originally Welsh) Tudor dynasty, seeing in the latter the fulfillment of bardic prophecies about the restoration of ancient, Celtic Britain. The sitter’s grandfather Sir William Maurice of Clenneny served in the House of Commons and is said to have coined the title "King of Great Britain" for his personal friend James I. Ellen Maurice’s first husband, John Owen, was a Welshman who amassed a fortune while serving as private secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen’s "spymaster." Walsingham engaged Marcus Gheeraerts’s brother-in-law John de Critz as a courier in the 1580s, and it may have been through her husband’s employer that Ellen Maurice was introduced to the De Critz/Gheeraerts family of artists. While Welsh aristocrats continued to patronize traditional bardic poetry in their native tongue (a large archive of poetic manuscripts associated with the Maurice and Owen families survives at the National Library of Wales), their portraits expressed their assimilation to the fashions of the Elizabethan court, as exemplified by both Ellen Maurice’s attire and her choice of painter. At the time the portrait was painted, the sitter was roughly nineteen years old; the likeness may commemorate either her marriage or presentation at court.
Following John Owen’s death in 1611, Ellen Maurice married Sir Francis Eure, a justice of the circuit court of North Wales. She died in 1626 and was buried at St. Mary’s Church in Selattyn (Shropshire), having devoted a portion of her wealth to the foundation of almshouses that survive to this day in Oswestry. Of her many children who survived to adulthood, her son and heir, Sir John Owen, became a noted soldier for the Royalist cause during the English Civil War. Her portrait remained in the possession of her direct descendants until its recent acquisition by The Met.
The Portrait: The sitter appears in half-length, splendidly dressed in embroidered silk. Holding a richly decorated glove in one hand, she caresses a long strand of pearls in the other. Her long, stiff bodice, bulbous sleeves and wheel farthingale emulate the silhouette promoted by Queen Elizabeth in such images as Gheeraerts’s Ditchley Portrait. As in that painting, an astonishing amount of pearls conveys the wealth of the sitter; her gesture of pinching one long strand between thumb and index finger enlivens the portrait and evokes the courtier’s refined movements. A starched standing ruff collar of transparent gauze and lace frames the sitter’s head and offsets the dark locks of hair that tumble down her cheeks. Typical for Gheeraerts’s depictions of women are the prominent eye sockets and vein visible in the sitter’s right temple, calling attention to her aristocratic pallor. Ellen Maurice’s pose, costume, and jewelry all closely resemble those in Gheeraerts’s 1600 portrait of Elizabeth Finch, Countess of Winchelsea (Earl of Radnor, Longford Castle), although Maurice’s youth and beauty distinguish her likeness within Gheeraerts’s oeuvre.
Adam Eaker 2017
Inscription: Dated and inscribed (upper left): 1597; (in another hand) Ellen Gd Daur & heir of / Sir W. Maurice of Clennenny. / Wife of John Owen. & 2ly of / Sir Francis Eure. She died 1626.
the sitter, Ellen Maurice Owen, later Eure, Clenennau, Gwynedd, Wales, and Brogyntyn (Porkington), Shropshire, England (until d. 1626); by descent through the Owen and Ormsby Gore families to Jasset David Cody Ormsby Gore, 7th Baron Harlech, Glyn Cywarch, near Talsarnau, Gwynedd (until 2017; his sale, Bonham's, London, March 29, 2017, no. 36, to The Met)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England," October 10, 2022–January 8, 2023, no. 102.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT.
[Fanny Mary Katherine] Bulkeley-Owen. "Selattyn: A History of the Parish." Transactions of the Shropshire Archæological and Natural History Society, 2nd ser., 4 (1892), p. 12.
John Steegman. A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses. Vol. 1, Houses in North Wales. Cardiff, 1957, p. 70, no. 2, lists it among portraits formerly at Brogyntyn in the collection of Lord Harlech.
Adam Eaker inThe Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England. Ed. Elizabeth Cleland and Adam Eaker. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2022, pp. 113, 196, 246–48, 252, 276, 317 n. 2, no. 102, ill. pp. 16, 247 (color, overall and detail).
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