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The current exhibition at the National Archives – With Love: Letters of love, loss and longing –  is as delightful as it is eclectic. One of the main exhibits is a letter written from Spain in 1623 by Sir Endymion Porter (1587 – 1649) to his beloved wife Olivia. He was accompanying the Prince of Wales, later Charles I, on the young royal’s bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful secret mission to procure a Spanish wife. The Porters’ happy marriage was not untroubled by mutual jealousy. To allay his wife’s fears, in this document, the royal sidekick writes “I kiss thy sweet mouth a thousand times” and “in thee I am rich and without thee I am nothing but misery”. This was, after all, the age of Shakespeare.

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This exhibit had me pondering. Porter’s name was familiar to me but I couldn’t quite place it. It niggled. Then, less than a week later, I was loafing around Tate Britain and it all came together: his portrait by William Dobson. Of course!

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Endymion Porter by William Dobson. Tate Britain.

This picture was painted during the Civil War. Porter, an unwavering though not uncritical friend of the king, was by this time in his mid-50s. Here his blotchy face shows a life well-lived. The portrait below, by Daniel Mytens (who also ‘did’ the king), portrays him about 15 years younger.

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Endymion Porter by Daniel Mytens. National Portrait Gallery, London.

And this one – with and by Anthony Van Dyck – falls between the two.

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Endymion Porter and Anthony Van Dyck by Van Dyck. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Van Dyck also did this family group portrait of the Porters.

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Sir Endymion Porter, his wife and three sons by Anthony Van Dyck. National Trust.

All of these pictures, I feel, show a happy-go-lucky individual whose main concern was the good things in life. He was a royal favourite of both James I and Charles I, who dabbled in diplomacy and commerce, not always successfully. Like both monarchs – especially the latter – he was an aesthete, a connoisseur with a particular love for paintings. In 1649 he returned from exile, dying only a matter of months after the king and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields, appropriately the final resting place also of Dobson (d.1626). The painter was known to be a heavy drinker and one can easily imagine the pair of them sharing a glass or two between sittings.

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There are quite a few more portrait images of Endymion Porter out there, including engravings and miniatures. Just look them up in Google Images.

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