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Isaac Oliver, ca. 1565–1617, French, active in Britain

Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex

Additional Title(s):

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

ca. 1596
Gouache and gray ink on parchment laid onto card
Frame: 3 x 2 1/2 x 5/8 inches (7.6 x 6.4 x 1.6 cm), Mount: 2 1/8 x 1 3/4 inches (5.4 x 4.4 cm), and Sheet: 2 1/8 x 1 3/4 inches (5.4 x 4.4 cm)

Inscribed on back of frame center: "Robert Devereux | Earl of Essex | Isaac Oliver"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors-Miniatures
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
Associated People:
Devereux, Robert, second earl of Essex (1565–1601), soldier and politician
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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This portrait, likely done from life, of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566–1601), appears to have been deliberately left unfinished. The painstaking execution of the face, hair, and beard and the shadowy sketching of the upper body suggest that it was painted as a pattern for replication. That its purpose was well served is testified to by several existing versions in museum and private collections, including the Royal Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the National Portrait Gallery, London.

It is not surprising that the Earl of Essex commissioned such a work. Essex’s ambitions centered on renown as a soldier and leader in the Protestant cause and as a spiritual successor to Sir Philip Sidney. Elizabeth’s favor brought him into court circles after 1587 as master of the horse and her preferred companion. His insistence on pursuing his ideals, however, often in defiance of politic behavior, brought Essex into disfavor with the queen more than once, and his ambitions to rival the Cecil family in political leadership also created tensions. In these struggles, Essex frequently utilized the public forum to circulate his ideas and strengthen his position, issuing printed and manuscript propaganda. His portraits, over his lifetime, also suggest the conscious molding of an image of strength and prowess, and later of statesmanlike qualities. At approximately the time Oliver created this miniature, Essex was seeking to become Elizabeth’s chief councillor, the better to promote the cause of Protestant war. The dating of the miniature to a time when Essex was still promoting his triumph over the Spanish in the Cádiz expedition and before his fall from grace in 1598 is suggested by his distinctive beard, which features in Marcus Gheeraerts’s Cádiz portrait (Woburn Abbey), and the ribbon of the garter, combined with a sober doublet and fancy collar. Such a combination reminds the viewer of the earl's martial leadership, while presenting a somber yet courtly mien and dress suitable to a political leader.

Lisa Ford

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, cat. no. 3, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, no. 3, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, p. 238, fig. 1, N5220 M552 A7 1977 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Published as April 1977 issue of Apollo; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 105:2 +]

Christie's sale catalogue : A life's devotion : the collection of the late Mrs. T.S. Eliot : 20 November 2013, Christie's, 2v., London, Wednesday 20 November 2013, p. 136, Auction Cat 2013 November (YCBA)

Earl of Derby's Miniatures on loan to the Manchester Art Galleries, Connoisseur, vol. 141, June 1958, pp. 44-46, J10 +C762 (SML)

Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and the world of Elizabethan art : painting and patronage at the court of Elizabeth I, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 2014, p. 238, fig. 205, N5247.L45 G65 2014 (YCBA)

Karen Hearn, Dynasties, painting in Tudor and Jacobean England, 1530-1630 , Tate Publishing, London, 1995, 178-179, N6765 D95 1995 + (YCBA)

Patrick Noon, English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures, Yale Center for British Art, 1979, p. 4, no. 2, fig. 2, NC772 N66+ (Wall Shelf) (YCBA)

Cathy J. Reed, Not Northumberland but Essex: Identifying the sitter in two miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard, British Art Journal, vol. 16, London, 2015, p. 93, Fig. 12, N6761 +B74 (YCBA)

Cynthia Roman, Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2009, pp. 184, 319, cat.no. 178, fig. 211, N5247 W25 H67 2009 + (YCBA)

Ellis Waterhouse, An Impressive Panorama of British Portraiture, Apollo, v. 105, no. 182, April 1977, p. 238, fig. 1, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Another copy of this article may be found in a separately bound and catalogued copy of this issue located on the Mellon Shelf [call number : N5220 M552 A7 1977 + (YCBA)]

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