SPENSER, EDMUND (1552?-1599, poet)  PORTRAIT, ENGLISH SCHOOL, EARLY 17TH CENTURY, KNOWN AS THE 'KINN
Lot 147
SPENSER, EDMUND (1552?-1599, poet) PORTRAIT, ENGLISH SCHOOL, EARLY 17TH CENTURY, KNOWN AS THE 'KINNOULL PORTRAIT',
Sold for £13,200 (US$ 22,475) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
SPENSER, EDMUND (1552?-1599, poet)
PORTRAIT, ENGLISH SCHOOL, EARLY 17TH CENTURY, KNOWN AS THE 'KINNOULL PORTRAIT',
artist unknown, oil on oak panel, head and shoulders, in an eighteenth-century frame, 13 x 11 in (33 x 27.9 cm), inventory number 206, the date 1791 and the identification 'Spencer' [sic] painted on frame, remnants of 1866 Exhibition label and the date 1781 on verso.

Footnotes

  • REFERENCES: A.C. Judson, The Life of Edmund Spenser, 1945 and 1947; David Piper, 'The Chesterfield House Library Portraits', Evidence in Literary Scholarship, edited by R. Wellek and A. Ribeiro, 1979; Catalogue of the First Special Exhibition of National Portraits ending with the Reign of James II, 1866, no. 336.

    This is the earliest known painting to have been identified as a portrait of Spenser.

    The Kinnoull Portrait was first mentioned by the traveller Thomas Pennant in 1772 after a visit to Dupplin Castle, seat of the Earls of Kinnoull, five and three-quarter miles south-west of Perth, where he reported in his Second Tour in Scotland, having seen a portrait 'head of Spenser'. It is not known how long the portrait had been identified as the poet before then, but it was clearly an established identification by the eighteenth century. The portrait was first engraved in 1805 for H.J. Todd's edition of Spenser. It was included in the National Portrait Gallery Exhibition of portraits ending with the reign of James II held in 1866. It has been frequently employed as a representation of the poet ever since, including recently on the covers of The Critical Heritage (1971) and P.C. Bailey's edition of The Faerie Queen (1995).

    The only near-contemporary description of Spenser is that recorded by John Aubrey: 'Mr Beeston says he [Spenser] was a little man, wore short hair, little band and little cuffs.' William Beeston was born after Spenser's death, but if any credence may be given to his description, the Kinnoull Portrait accords more with it than any other, except in the matter of the 'band' [collar], since it seems to depict a smaller man than the other main type and the hair is almost exaggeratedly short, the sort of length that would have attracted comment much more than that in the other, the Chesterfield, portrait.

    The other portrait for which an equal claim has been advanced is the Chesterfield type - so-called because a version was among the portraits in Lord Chesterfield's library. It has a longer public tradition of identification with Spenser, but survives only in copies thought to be at best no earlier than the late seventeenth century. David Piper noted that the first record of the type was by George Vertue in 1719 ('a picture of Spencer in Poses of John Guyse') and assumes that this is the portrait of which Vertue made an engraving in 1727, dedicated to John Guyse. The engraving is of the same type as the Chesterfield Portrait, versions of which, Piper stated, are in the Sterling Library in the University of London Library and at Pembroke College and one was recorded as being at Nuneham Courtney. A.C. Judson makes passing mention of a small portrait 'which in features and dress' is related to this group and was then in the Plimpton Library at Columbia University. It has been suggested that that one might be an early seventeenth-century original for the Chesterfield type but no real claims have ever been advanced for it. David Piper, noting that they were of different men, expressed a preference for the Chesterfield over the Kinnoull Portrait largely on the grounds that the former has been more often reproduced as the poet. He did not claim to have seen the Kinnoull Portrait. It was still at Dupplin Castle in 1897 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

    The Kinnoull Portrait has, therefore, a long tradition of acceptance as a possible portrait of Spenser and it is, as far as is known, the oldest painting to have been identified as him. Since it was in a family residence, Dupplin Castle, it is possible, as is the nature of these things, that the tradition is much older and stronger than can now be established. At least two of the members of the Hay family (the Kinnoull family name) are known to have had literary connections: Thomas Hay (1710-1787), the eighth Earl, had associations with Walpole, Gay and Pope, and James Hay (c.1580-1636), born at Pitcorthy in the nearby county of Fife, had masques written for him by both Campion and Jonson and performed himself in others.
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